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Senate to Vote on Ending Shutdown at Noon Monday; Turkish Operation Targets Kurdish Militia in Syria; 18 Killed in Kabul Hotel Siege; German Political Deadlock Breaks. Aired 12-1a

Aired January 22, 2018 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:15] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: you're watching CNN coming to you from Atlanta. Hello everyone. I'm Natalie Allen.

Our breaking news this hour -- the U.S. government shutdown now entering its third day.

The Senate adjourned without reaching agreement on a temporary spending bill. Lawmakers are now set to vote on the measure at noon Monday -- at issue: when to address DACA.

You probably heard about that by now. That is a program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were children, protect them from deportation.

Democrats want immediate action on DACA. The Senate Republican leader made an offer but where did that go?

Here is Ryan Nobles -- he gives us the details from Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It turned out to be not as late a night here on Capitol Hill as we expected but that's not because there was some sort of grand bargain struck between Republicans and Democrats instead a decision made to delay this process even more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing late Sunday night from the Senate floor that he is willing to negotiate with Democrats on some big issues but that he wants the government to open first.

Take a listen.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on February 8, 2018, assuming that the government remains open, it would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security, and related issues.

NOBLES: And among the things the Senate Majority Leader promising Democrats is that they will take up this issue of DACA, the program that protects some 700,000 young people who were brought into this country through no fault of their own but are here under an illegal status. That program, of course, started under the Obama administration but rescinded by President Trump.

The Senate Majority Leader saying that he will vote on this or at least attempt to bring a vote to the floor before the next continuing resolution deadline which will now be February 8th.

Senator Jeff Flake was one of the key Republicans negotiating this process today. He told me there's a real lack of trust from Democrats when it comes to Mitch McConnell's promises on this issue. He hopes that Mitch McConnell's speech will be enough to convince them to cast a vote to reopen government. Take a listen.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think there's a lack of trust and that's why I wanted to stand up afterwards and reiterate and to confirm what the Leader has committed to.

I do think given the high-profile nature of this whole debate that it will be impossible for us not to move on to immigration. And the Democrats still have the spending caps as leverage beyond this time. So I do think we'll get there.

NOBLES: But regardless of the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats here on Capitol Hill there remains a stark reality from the hundred of thousands of government employees across the country, who now will not have to report to work on Monday.

The government remains closed. That means they won't be getting paid on Monday and many of them will remain on the edge wondering if Republicans and Democrats can iron out their differences and reopen the federal government.

Ryan Nobles, CNN -- on Capitol Hill.


ALLEN: Yes. You've got to feel for the federal workers that are somewhat (INAUDIBLE) in all of this. Let's talk more about it. Joining us from Los Angels CNN political commentators Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas. Gentlemen -- thanks so much.

Who's got the ball here? Dave -- the Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for a vote to reopen the government with a pledge to take up the issues critical to Democrats namely immigration, DACA. The Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said no thanks, we'll try again tomorrow.

Why the hesitation from Mr. Schumer?

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because the America people are on the side of Democrats. Politico and Morning Consult just put out a poll a couple of hours ago. And they asked the American people who do they blame for the government shutdown -- 41 percent of respondents said that it's Republicans, only 36 percent said that it's Democrats.

Why? Because the Democratic Party is advancing the agenda of the American people. Poll after poll has showed consistently that almost 90 percent of Americans believe that we need a DACA fix; 80 percent of Republicans believe that.

And it's not just confined to the DACA issue. It's also the CHIP issue -- Children's Health Insurance Program that has been an issue that has been kicked down the road month after month. And Americans overwhelming want to fund that program. Republicans refused to.

ALLEN: All right. John -- jump in there. Is that the case?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No Republicans in this initial bill offered a six-year funding of CHIP.

[00:04:57] What's amazing to me, Natalie, about the situation we find ourselves in is that the Democrats and Chuck Schumer were willing to shut down our government over a bill that no one objects to. It's that they didn't get a policy provision about illegal immigrants or DACA recipients in this particular bill -- something that both Trump and the leader, Leader McConnell said they are going to deal with.

DACA doesn't expire -- it didn't expire on Friday. CHIPs did however -- Dave; and it's just amazing to me how the Democrats are willing to hold Americans hostage over a policy proposal that's not set to expire for weeks.

ALLEN: Is that the case? Because we heard from President Trump on the campaign trail -- there's the sign behind Mr. Schumer -- Trump has said on the campaign trail if there is a government shutdown it is on the President.


JACOBSON: I think that's right. I mean the Republicans control every arm of the federal government. Donald Trump is in the White House and Republicans control the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. For the first time in modern history you have one- party rule that has led to a shutdown.

So I think that's why you are seeing in recent polling that Americans are overwhelmingly blaming the Republican Party. The fact of the matter is, this is on them.

And it's not just Democrats. Let's not forget a number of Republicans voted with the Democrats to shut down the government. Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Mike Lee. These are Republicans. Lindsey Graham -- he's a golf buddy of President Trump who sided with the Democrats.


JACOBSON: Right. We'll see after this issue.

But I think like that's the issue like we've got bipartisan support on our side. The question is, is Mitch McConnell willing to cut a bipartisan deal to bring Democrats to his side. THOMAS: Natalie -- it is simple math -- ok. There's no way for that bill to get passed. You need 60 votes. Republicans do not have the votes even with 100 percent. It is up -- we need Democratic support. It was their choice to shut down.

So you can try to pin this on Republicans but they know that there was no mathematical way without Democrat votes.

ALLEN: Well Mr. -- Senator Flake says he thinks the Democrats are going to come around and change their votes and get the votes for the Republicans. Do you guys think that will happen?

THOMAS: Well, I do think it's going to happen. And right now it is just "who is going to blink first" game. I mean you're seeing senators especially like Heidi Heitkamp out of North Dakota. These are states that Trump carried. They're starting to sweat because if they continue to be part of this government shutdown, that will backfire and potentially cost them their reelection

So it's just a waiting game here. I think the government does get reopened whether it's tomorrow or the next day -- I'm not sure.

But one thing I'm seeing out of the Trump White House and you can see, Natalie, it was infuriating to senators like Lindsey Graham, is that Trump is not willing to compromise on just giving up a concession on for instance not funding the border wall, a key campaign promise he made over what the Democrats are doing of holding us hostage today.

ALLEN: And where does the President factor in to this?

Senator Flake was asked does he need to get involved and he was like please no. We've heard Lindsey Graham say he is so hard to deal with. And they're both -- from both parties are kind of pointing the finger at the staff. Is the staff controlling this President or is he in charge here?

THOMAS: I mean the President is firmly in charge from what understand. But I do think though even the President would be willing to concede that right now there's no point to the President getting involved because it has to come from the Senate, it has to come from the House.

If they're not willing to vote to pass this with 60 votes there's no sense in sending it to the President's desk.

JACOBSON: I'll tell you Donald Trump looks anything but a confident and stable genius president. We don't know where he comes down on this issue. At the end of the day, Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin presented the President last week with a comprehensive bipartisan plan.

Donald Trump was the one who said hey, he'll take the heat. He wanted to cut a deal. But now he looks precisely like the opposite from what the ultimate deal maker is. And that's because Donald Trump ultimately has no ideology, he has no values, and we don't know where he comes down on any given issue. He's all over the map. ALLEN: And you know what -- John. Members of both parties say that about the President.

THOMAS: Has the President evolved on issues? Certainly -- what politician hasn't? But the fact is the President has said that he does want to make a deal on DACA but we've go to get the government open first.

I'm still scratching my head as to why people like Dave Jacobson and Chuck Schumer are willing to literally throw our family -- our military families under the bus, eight million children who depend on CHIPS. They don't care if they have health care treatment they would rather play politics over a policy proposal that doesn't even expire for weeks.

ALLEN: Ok. One more blame game from you -- Dave. And then I want to move on to another question about this shutdown.

[00:09:56] JACOBSON: I just go back to the issue that Democrats are advancing the agenda of the American people -- 90 percent of Americans want a fix to DACA. More than that want a fully-funded CHIP program, not for six years but a long term funding solution that's going to get us beyond that.

If the government reopens tomorrow and they start moving forward, they kind of find some sort of common ground, do you think this shutdown will have legs for the midterm election. Americans seem to have not too long of a memory sometimes. If this starts moving forward and they see it going in the right direction is this going to hurt anyone at the midterms?

THOMAS: I don't believe that it will. I mean one thing we've learned is that there's just so much news that comes out of our federal politics these days.

But I think the danger here and some Democrats, I'm hearing are saying this is that they might be seen as fighting for illegal immigrants before Americans. And this might in fact be Donald Trump's narrative that he is putting America first.

And I think that's the risk the Democrats are running here is that's what is their exit strategy if the Republicans aren't willing to deal with them on this issue? That narrative could burn them in the midterms.

ALLEN: Dave.

JACOBSON: I love my frenemy John Thomas over there but there's no evidence to suggest that this is going to negatively impact Democrats. 90 percent of the American people want a DACA fix.

Let's not forget, the vast majority of these folks are students. They came here when they were two, three and four years old. They're teachers, they're serving in the military, they're in college. These are productive members of society. And Democrats are compassionate, they're inclusive. And they want these folks to have a pathway to citizenship. But if you look at recent evidence and recent elections, whether it is the Alabama U.S. Senate race, the Virginia race -- election, pardon me -- or New Jersey, Democrats clearly have the momentum.

We've got the wind at our back and polling suggests that we are on a trajectory for a massive Democratic tsunami wave as we approach 2018.

ALLEN: We'll see. All right. Gentlemen -- thank you so much for the spirited debate. Dave Jacobson and John Thomas -- as always, guys, we really appreciate it.

JACOBSON: Thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you.

ALLEN: And coming up here, France takes action after Turkey's military intervenes in Syria. Could it get any more complicated? Apparently it can. We'll tell you next what France is calling on the U.N. to do.

Also German Chancellor Angela Merkel breathes a slight sigh of relief now that talks are at least moving forward on forming a governing coalition.

One country moving ahead, finding a path forward -- and we'll talk about Germany.

(INAUDIBLE) Thanks for joining us.


ALLEN: There's a new kink in the Syrian war and it's causing bloodshed, protest and soon emergency talks all tied to the latest deadly conflict in Syria. On Sunday demonstrators in Turkey scuffled with police while protesting the military's incursion into northern Syria. Some of the protestors were detained.

Turkish troops launched a air and ground offensive over the weekend, their main target appears to be the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG but Turkey says it is also fighting ISIS.

Reuters News Service reports that the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Turkey warned the U.S. before launching the airstrikes.

France wants an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council after this latest violence.

Our Ben Wedeman has more on the conflict from Egypt.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Turkey has dubbed it Operation: Olive Branch, an offensive involving airstrikes, artillery and now Turkish ground forces entering the predominantly Kurdish northern Syrian district of Afrin (ph). The target is Kurdish Syrian fighters with the YPG -- a military force that makes up the bulk of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces which have been key American allies in the war against ISIS in Syria.

Turkey has long opposed the American alliance with the YPG which it sees as the Syrian branch of the Kurdish Workers Party which has fought a separatist war against Turkey since 1984. Turkey is also concerned that the Kurds could set up an independent state on its southern border.

Ankara is also angry over Washington's plans to establish and train a 30,000-strong border forces composed mostly of Syrian Kurds. Before Operation: Olive Branch began, the U.S. called on Turkey to exercise restraint and remain focused on the fight against ISIS.

Turkish officials are suggesting their goal is set up a 30-kilometer deep buffer zone along the border but Kurdish forces are firing back. Sunday afternoon a rocket attack on the Turkish border town of Reyhanli (ph) killed one Syrian national and wounded more than 30 others according to the town's mayor.

For his part Syrian President Bashar al Assad has slammed the Turkish offensive as support for terrorism.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN -- reporting from Cairo.


ALLEN: CNN military analyst Rick Francona calls the incursion unhelpful and unnecessary. He explained why to CNN's Michael Holmes earlier.


LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This area of northwestern Syria really has been not that bad of an area for ISIS. In fact ISIS has been removed from that area. So why are the Turks going in there? It's one answer -- it's all about the Kurds.

The Turks are very concerned that the Kurds are going to establish some sort of semi-autonomous area in Syria much like they have in Iraq and that is anathema to the Turks.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: You know, in the broader picture, I mean you know well, we saw in Libya how disparate groups that hated each other came together for a common enemy, in that case Gadhafi; then once he was gone returned to their old enmities.

Is that what we might see in Syria? I mean you had everyone opposing ISIS. The U.S., the Russians, the Kurds, and the Turks, the Saudis, tribes -- with ISIS defeated could be see a repeat of Libya when these groups go back to their old ways and start fighting each other?

[00:20:06] FRANCONA: They could. Because you know, we've lost that common glue that kept everybody kind of in this unhappy alliance. But it gets worse than that because now you've got major players involved here. You've got the Russians who are watching this with kind of trepidation. You've got the United States -- are we going to allow the Kurds to be decimated by the Turkish Armed Forces.

And believe me the Turkish Armed Forces are capable of defeating those Kurds up in that area. They've got overwhelming fire power. Are we going to stand by and watch this? Are the Russians going to allow the Turks to set up military operations adjacent to their area of operations in Syria? And then, of course, the Syrians don't' want them there.

So we're setting this up for a big show down, I think primarily between the United States on one side and the Turks on the other.


ALLEN: Mr. Francona went on to say a direct confrontation between Turkish forces on one side of the border, as he just said, and the U.S. would be a recipe for disaster but so far there's been no real diplomatic action.

The U.S. is condemning an ambush at a hotel in Kabul that left at least 18 people dead, among them nine Ukrainians, someone from Greece, a German and a Kovak (ph) national. Afghan security forces killed four attackers during the 12-hour siege which ended Sunday morning.

CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley has more about it.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No less than 153 people were rescued from the Intercontinental Hotel, among them 41 foreign nationals. Among the dead are at least 14 foreign nationals and four Afghans, plus at least four of the gunmen.

Now, the "at least" comes because there are conflicting reports about how many gunmen were actually involved in this attack. The Taliban which claimed responsibility for this act of terrorism says that they attacked the hotel using five gunmen.

But the Afghan government says that their Special Forces were very quickly on the ground and after 12-hour battle killed four, only four attackers. Equally the Afghan government claims that this was an act carried out by the Haqqani Network that is allied with the Taliban but it is a set for organization. But the Taliban insists they did it.

Nonetheless the casualties could have been a great more severe. This is a hotel that sits on the top of a hill on the outskirts of Kabul. It is very popular with the international community, frequently used for conferences and therefore a prime target for the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, to a lesser extent also the so-called Islamic state, also operational now inside the Afghan capital.

The mission of all of the above is to try to undermine the central government's capability to look like it can run the place, to look like it is a government that could control its own streets.

That said, this was a Special Forces counter-attack launched entirely by the Afghans. In the past, western Special Forces have joined the Afghans in trying to put down these terrorist attacks. But on this occasion it was the Afghan Special Forces alone that sorted out what could have been much worse.

Sam Kiley, CNN -- in Abu Dhabi.


ALLEN: Germany's leaders have taken a crucial step towards breaking a long-running political deadlock. The central left Social Democrats voted Sunday to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats Party. Mrs. Merkel said she is optimistic.

Atika Shubert has more for us from Berlin.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a really close vote -- 362 for, 279 against. And you could really feel the tension in the party as the votes had to be counted individually, one by one, in absolutely silence.

And the Social Democrats leader Martin Schulz looked, well he looked a bit shaken and visibly relieved when he heard those final results come in. But ultimately, this is good news for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

She now has the green light to go ahead and build this coalition government. And that process is likely to start in the next few days. However, coalition talks are expected to drag on for weeks as they carve up government policy and ministries and so forth.

So the reality is we may not see a coalition government actually in place until about Eastern, around spring. And even then, the Social Democrats will again need to vote on the final form of the coalition government.

So it is a grueling process. And it's quite a turn around for Angela Merkel. This is somebody who is arguably the most powerful woman in the world. She's considered a political her so powerful that really nobody can fathom who might succeed her on the political landscape.

And yet here she is having trouble hammering together some sort of coalition months after the September election.

The reality is she's been in power for 12 years and her priority now is forming a government that can secure her legacy in what may very well be her last term in office, the twilight of her political career.

[00:25:08] Atika Shubert, CNN -- Berlin.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: More North Korean officials will be visiting South Korea later this week ahead of the Winter Olympics. North Korean music and arts officials are in South Korea now inspecting the venues where performances will be held during the games.

Pop star Hyon Song-Wol is leading the North Korean delegation and more inspectors will arrive Thursday.

Well despite the Olympic good will, in Japan a few hundred people are preparing to participate in a missile evacuation drill. The exercise in response to North Korea repeated missile launch. Japan has been holding drills in several cities since last March, the first in Oga (ph) after three missiles from North Korea landed in the sea just 370 kilometers from the city.

Pope Francis is on his way back to the Vatican after a six-day visit to Chile and Peru. During the trip, he met with church leaders and victims of abuse by priests. The Pope also sparked controversy by defending a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse.

Archaeologists with Mexico's great Maya aquifer project have discovered the world's largest underwater cave.

The branchwork (ph) of grottos spans 347 kilometers under Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. And they say it may be even bigger than that if it joins with three other local cave systems. The project's director says the cave holds extensive, invaluable evidence of America's earliest inhabitants.

That is our super cool story of the day.

Agreement among U.S. lawmakers remains elusive and the Senate adjourns without ending the government shutdown.

We'll look at what's next in Washington coming up here.



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories.


ALLEN: Senior reporter with Politico, David Siders, joins us now to talk more about the developments -- or non-developments -- he's in Los Angeles.

David, thanks for joining us.

DAVID SIDERS, POLITICO: Good to be here.

ALLEN: Despite bipartisan efforts on Sunday on Capitol Hill, the government will remain closed this Monday. Both sides saying they still haven't found a way forward.

What might that way forward look like for Democrats?

SIDERS: Well, it looked like on Sunday there was some inching forward, with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, giving some indication that he is open to consideration of DACA, the fix that Democrats need.

I think what needs to happen for an agreement to come together on Monday by noon is for Democrats to gain some level of confidence that they don't have now, that Republicans are serious about taking up DACA. And even then I'm not sure it's enough. You're already starting to see some pressure on Democratic lawmakers from their progressive bases not to agree to any deal with that doesn't have DACA included.

ALLEN: And why are the parties still so divided on DACA?

SIDERS: It is an interesting question. DACA's hugely popular but both parties speak to different bases so Democrats are speaking to a liberal base that is much more interested in preserving protections for DACA recipients than Republicans.

And Republicans have a tradition and a history, I think, of talking about immigration to their base, that's much, much different. And certainly having protections for DACA recipients would be a change in that long line of arguments that they've been making with their constituents.

ALLEN: And neither side has made much headway with the U.S. president on this. And both sides have criticized the White House, saying that the president has gone back and forth; he agrees to one thing at one moment and then maybe his staff, many people point fingers at his staff, who are more hardliners, reportedly, will change his mind.

Is he muddying the waters here?

SIDERS: It is interesting; I've heard it both ways and I guess you could make your assessment of it, depending on how you view the president. The one is exactly like you say, that he's muddying the waters because his staff is sending some signals and then he's tweeting that they should go to a nuclear option, the Republicans.

And another, kind of mixed signals throughout the day. But I will say also that he's had some people praise him, I think, for having some distance from these negotiations. So it isn't a president with a hard hand on the negotiations, which maybe ironically, as the president dealmaker, he is not being right now.

But that could be seen as a positive, I guess, as well.

ALLEN: Do you think once both sides do come together -- and we hope that happens soon -- and reopens the government, do you think Americans will care who caused this?

Because that's what we've been talking about all weekend, the blame game, is it a Schumer shutdown or a Trump shutdown? As long as Congress is moving in the right direction, is this

something that --


ALLEN: -- will affect midterm elections, do you think?

SIDERS: I think if it only last a few days, it's doubtful, because look at how many things erupts and reporters like me, we say this is going to affect the midterm elections in a great way. And then we forget about it a week or two later.

I think that's likely to be the case here. On the other hand there are issues at play in the shutdown that I think very well could play in the midterm elections, primarily having to do with immigration and how do we treat not only these young, undocumented immigrants that are part of DACA but also immigration writ large.

ALLEN: And what about border security?

Mr. Schumer said this weekend that he put that on the table for Mr. Trump and it didn't get anywhere.

How big of an issue is that in the bigger scheme of things?

SIDERS: Well, I think border security and immigration in general were huge factors in the presidential election. And I think that there is no reason to think that those won't also be huge factors in the midterm election.

ALLEN: All right, David Siders, senior reporter for Politico, we thank you.

SIDERS: Thank you.

ALLEN: Thanks for joining us.

Let's turn now to the vice president. Not shut down at his office. He is in Israel and we will look at what's on his agenda and why Christian leaders aren't lining up to meet him on his trip. That's coming up here.




ALLEN: U.S. vice president Mike Pence continues his trip in the Middle East. He is in Israel for a visit that includes meetings with the prime minister and president.

Let's talk about why this trip came about it. It was scheduled for December but Mr. Pence needed to stay in Washington to vote on tax reform if needed and the trip's original agenda was for Mr. Pence to talk with Middle Eastern leaders about the importance of the evangelical Christian base and the support that Mr. Trump gets from that.

However, that has kind of changed since the original plan. His trip comes at a time -- tense time for the region after President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. And CNN's Ian Lee explains why Mr. Pence will receive a less-than-warm welcome from Christian leaders.



IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Incense wafts into the air, ancient prayers reverberate off stone walls. An Armenian priest performs the sacred rituals.

Sunday service at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in the Grotto on the spot Christians believe Jesus was born. Above, Greek Orthodox worshipers receive the Holy Sacrament and in the room over, a Catholic congregation sings hymns of peace.

Despite centuries of war, famine and disease, the local Christians remained. But --


LEE (voice-over): -- now, church leaders fear a complete exodus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our biggest challenge is to keep them here. They need to build a government, a country, not only an identity for the people. And this all we pray for that (INAUDIBLE) in this country.

LEE (voice-over): Three denominations share the birthplace of Jesus just right through that door. And while they don't agree on theology, they all agree that U.S. foreign policy is hurting the local Christian community.

When President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, 13 of the city's church leaders from 13 denominations denounced it.

Before the declaration, U.S. vice president Mike Henson announced a Middle East trip to help embattled Christians. Now not one of the local church leaders wants to meet him.

The major threat to Christians in the Middle East comes from the White House, that according former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah (ph).

MICHEL SABBAH (PH), FORMER LATIN PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM: If he wants to defend this is in the Middle East, he has to start trenching (ph) the American policy to the Middle East, to serve (ph) in your vision of politics built on life, in your life, in all countries.

LEE (voice-over): What's seen here as the U.S.' preferential treatment toward Israel and the occupation of Palestinian lands is driving Christians away, say clergy. People's lives, opportunities and movements restricted by Israel. In a Christmas message, Prime Minister Netanyahu defended Israel,

saying it's the only country in the region where Christians have equal opportunity.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I'm proud that Israel is the country that -- in which Christians not only survive but they thrive because we believe in this friendship among people. And we protect the rights of everyone to worship in the holy shrines behind me.

LEE (voice-over): But local Christians see the opposite and look abroad for a better life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to raise our kids here and we don't know what next will be. But most -- the most thing that we know that most our -- of our relatives left the country for these political situations.

LEE (voice-over): If the American vice president truly wants to help the Christians of the Holy Land, Sabbah (ph) offers this advice.

SABBAH (PH): You love Israel, this very good. But you love the Palestinians if you are Christians. Jesus said love everyone.

LEE (voice-over): Otherwise, a church without a congregation becomes just another shrine -- Ian Lee, CNN, in Bethlehem, the West Bank.


ALLEN: A Hollywood held another award ceremony on Sunday, the year's best films and television shows were honored at the Screen Actors Guild awards. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," that the film's title, was the night's big winner with three awards.

The movie's star, Francis McDormand, won Best Actress and also in the film, Sam Rockwell won for Best Supporting Actor. The cast also won Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture.

Gary Oldman won Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour."

This awards show also marked a historic first. Only did it have an emcee (ph) for the first time, that's her, Kristen Bell, but also the presenters were all female.

CNN NEWSROOM continues at the top of the hour. I'm Natalie Allen in Atlanta. "WORLD SPORT" is coming up next. Thanks for watching.