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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Support Falling Among White Evangelicals; West Virginia Public Schools Canceled Again Monday; California Agents Search Homes, Seize Illegal Guns; Trump Calls Sessions Mr. Magoo in Private; Trump Says North Korea Called Up Seeking Talks; Trump Praises Chinese President for Ending Term Limits; Trump Jokes About Staff Turnover and Chaos; Trump Trade Threats Wobble Wall Street. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being here on this Sunday.

We begin with the president letting loose at a Washington black tie affair, joking about White House chaos, Jared Kushner's troubles getting a security clearance, and even his marriage to Melania. The mood was funny, lighthearted but there were also some things the president said that may have serious undertones, especially what he said about the ongoing nuclear threat from North Korea.

Here's the president's exact remark. "I won't rule out direct talks with Kim Jong-un. I just won't. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that's his problem, not mine." Well, the president went on, "By the way, a couple of days ago, they said we would like to talk and I said, so would we. But you have to denuke, you have to denuke. So let's see what happens. Maybe positive things are happening. I hope that's true. We will be meeting and we'll see if anything positive happens."

I want to bring in CNN White House correspondent Boris Sanchez.

Boris, what is the White House saying about this call?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ana. Yes, unexpected news coming from the Gridiron Dinner last night. Historically it's not an event that necessarily breaks news that way. Kind of surprising here the president discussed diplomacy there in the way that he did.

Obviously he was joking but then it appears that he was somewhat serious about potentially moving forward with direct talks between the United States and North Korea. Basing it yet again on the precondition that North Korea must denuclearize before there are any direct communications between the two countries.

North Korea was certainly paying attention. They put out a statement writing, quote, "The U.S. that was terrified at the rapid development of our nuclear force and has continued to knock the door of dialogue, now feigns an indifference and advances this or that precondition. Not being content with it, it insists that it will have dialogue only for making the DPRK abandon nuclear weapons and persist in maximum pressure until complete denuclearization is realized. That is really more than ridiculous."

So obviously the North Korean Foreign Ministry not thrilled about the president's stance. CNN has reached out to the White House multiple times now to get clarity on the president's marks and if there's been any progress made toward an actual moment of meeting. They have yet to respond, though -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Boris, at the White House. Thank you.

So President Trump says North Korea, quote, "called up, would like to talk with the U.S. but that the rogue nation would have to denuke first." The president adding he won't rule out direct talks with North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-un. Now North Korea's response, as Boris pointed out, Trump's preconditions for talks are, quote, "preposterous."

Let's talk it over with two East Asia experts, Atlantic Council senior fellow Janie Metzl and former senior State Department adviser Balbina Hwang.

All right, guys. Jamie, let's start with you. Does it look like these talks with North Korea are going to happen?

JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: There are going to be some kind of talks with North Korea because they are just starting now between South Korea and North Korea. And it's likely that there could be some interaction between the Americans and the North Koreans but one thing will be sure, because of the weakness and disarray of the U.S. administration, the Trump administration, those talks are going to be very likely in many ways on North Korea's terms because North Korea is getting stronger in spite of all of the strikes against them and the United States unfortunately is getting weaker because of the disarray in the White House.

CABRERA: Balbina, do you think this North Korea change of heart of sorts stemmed from the participation in the Olympics at South Korea? Was that a turning point?

BALBINA HWANG, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER ON EAST ASIA: Well, first, I disagree that I think that the North Korean position is necessarily stronger because the U.S. position is weaker. Regardless of whether the White House is currently in disarray or not, when it comes to North Korea, in fact of all of the foreign policy issues this is the one issue where the United States -- the Trump administration has actually been very consistent and is in fact rallied a very strong position towards North Korea in the multilateral arena.

And in fact, it has a very strong position towards North Korea. So North Korea indeed does have a strong position. I will agree with that. And where it is strong is that it is separated out talks with South Korea as a separate issue. So I'm not sure there is actually any new news. President Trump didn't really say anything new yesterday. There will probably be talks but I think they -- you know, this is the exact same position and both sides are laying them out. North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons and the United States

wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

CABRERA: Do you want to just follow up, Jamie, on why you believe --

METZL: Yes.

CABRERA: -- the U.S. position is weaker?

METZL: Yes. So I completely disagree with my friend, Balbina. And the reason why we are in this weak position is because the way -- the only real leverage that the United States has for pressuring North Korea is getting China to do more and because the United States is in such a weak position, because the United States is antagonizing all of our allies and friends by stepping away from TPP, by telling Japan and South Korea in many ways that they are -- that they are on their own.

[18:05:15] By doing all of the things that are having all of our allies and friends really worried about what we're going to do next, we have very little leverage over the Chinese and so we've been not able to get the Chinese to do more.

The North Koreans like the Chinese, like the Soviets recognize that America is as weak as we've been in generations and so we are likely going to move forward with additional contacts with the North Koreans, not from a position of strength but from a position of very unfortunate weakness.

CABRERA: But don't you think something is different given, like, the stalemate, this ignoring each other, shouting at each other has been broken and now there are even talks about coming together?

METZL: Well, we've --

CABRERA: In some fashion?

METZL: We've negotiated with the North Koreans in the past and we've done it successfully with leverage. The North Koreans have always wanted to negotiate with the United States on an equal footing. And if we have negotiations with the North Koreans now, it will be on that equal footing because the North Koreans aren't going to give up their nuclear weapons, and so they have already established the status quo of their position.

If the United States insists that we can't even talk before North Korea gives up its nukes, there won't be any talk. So already the decision has been made in some ways to accept what the new status quo that North Korea has created. That's why I'm saying that this Trump administration in spite of all of the bluster and all of the name calling has actually weakened the United States.

CABRERA: Balbina, should the U.S. talk to North Korea without preconditions?

HWANG: Well, it's a good thing Jamie and I are friends, and so he knows that our differences are really about policy, nothing personal. (LAUGHTER)

HWANG: But the premises are simply incorrect. First of all, China is not, absolutely not the only leverage that we have over North Korea. In fact it is very clear, it has been clear for the last 20 years that the road to Pyongyang does not go through Beijing. And if we have learned nothing in the last three administrations, it's that China is not the way in which we are going to get North Korea to do what we need North Korea to do. Number one.

But the other thing is, nothing has really changed. And what has actually occurred and it's been quite consistent, since President Bush's administration and President Obama did it very consistently, and now so has President Trump and he has actually ratcheted this up, which is to increase the pressure on North Korea. So I think that actually that is the position of strength.

Now what is interesting is that South Korea and the United States have actually strengthened their alliance and their position of cohesiveness. Despite the fact that President Moon is ideologically supposedly very, very different from where President Trump is. So I think we'll see but I don't think that very much has changed at all in terms of the overall positions.

CABRERA: But, Balbina, Moon who you point out has been close with President Trump and the U.S. and the South Korea --

HWANG: That's exactly right.

CABRERA: -- are saying they want to work together. But he's saying the U.S. should be willing to talk to North Korea without expecting them to give up their nuclear program at this juncture. Is it realistic for North Korea to say, sure, we're just going to denuclearize? Do you think that will ever happen, so if they don't would talks even happen at all?

HWANG: That is exactly the stalemate that we have been in and this is exactly why the Six Party talks have been frozen since 2008. That is exactly why President Obama, despite all of the incredible efforts that were put in for eight years, that North Korea simply did not come to the table. It's not because President Obama didn't try for eight years, it's because North Korea didn't want to meet those conditions.

And so again the U.S. position has been very, very consistent. This is the one thing Trump administration has not changed and I don't think we should change that position. But you are correct. It is not realistic. North Korea will not come to the table giving up its nuclear weapons. This is exactly why all of this continues and all of this rhetoric back and forth, that's what it is, it simply is rhetoric.

CABRERA: The rhetoric of fire and fury, however, has changed.

HWANG: It has. However --

METZL: Well, it has changed. (CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Let me -- Jamie?

METZL: It has changed and the rhetoric has been ratcheted way up. But there is no military option for the United States. The North Koreans know it, the South Koreans know it. Everybody knows it, maybe Donald Trump doesn't know --

CABRERA: I'm glad you bring that up, though, Jamie, because multiple sources with knowledge of White House thinking say the Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if they successfully develop a nuclear missile capable of hitting the U.S.

METZL: Yes.

[18:10:02] CABRERA: And we heard from CIA director Mike Pompeo in January that he thought they were just a few months off from doing just that.

METZL: They are and that is -- that is not real. They are bluffing or they are insane because every time when they play out what a -- whatever a pinpoint attack on North Korea looks like, you end up with tens, hundreds of thousands of casualties and these are casualties of American citizens living in Seoul. There's all kinds of disruptions, so even Mattis -- General Mattis and others have played this out.

There is no military option. Everybody knows that the Trump administration is bluffing, it's not -- simply not true what Balbina is saying, that U.S.-South Koreans relations are at an all time high.

(CROSSTALK)

HWANG: No, I didn't say that. I actually did not say they're at an all-time high.

CABRERA: I will give you the last word, Balbina.

HWANG: Well, actually it is not true to say there is no military option. There always has been and there always is. It is absolutely true --

METZL: No palatable military option.

HWANG: Well -- that I agree with.

(LAUGHTER)

HWANG: However, the military option is there and that is precisely the point. The point is, is that right now North Korea and actually quite a number of other countries in the world are not sure if this president is willing to use it or not and that is exactly why North Korea is willing to entertain talks.

(CROSSTALK) HWANG: That's exactly why we might finally be able to move forward.

CABRERA: I know you disagree, Jamie.

METZL: That's why the whole world is terrified.

HWANG: Because there is a bluff.

CABRERA: OK. Balbina and Jamie, thank you both.

HWANG: Thank you.

CABRERA: You both have so much expertise and different opinions, that's why we brought you together so we can hear it all. Thanks again.

METZL: We're still friends.

CABRERA: Exactly.

Well, China of course is another big topic related to North Korea. President Trump also trying to put the pressure on China with these tariffs that he is -- that he is saying he's going to impose. And now he's also reacting to a bold move by China's president to end term limits. Trump's remarks coming at a weekend fundraiser at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't forget China is great, and Xi is a great gentlemen. He's now president for life.

(LAUGHTER AND CHEERS)

TRUMP: President for life. No, he's great. Look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Those remarks following the event that upset the stock market, may have set the stage for a potential trade war with China a few days ago. His surprise move to slap tariffs on U.S. imports of steel and aluminum.

Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley live in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Will, tell us about today's big event there.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ana. Yes, the National People's Congress, China's top legislative gathering, is set to kick off at this building right over here, the Great Hall of the People.

We've already had to pass through two layers of security just to get to this point but you can see the Chinese military keeping us and everybody else a pretty far distance away.

There are crowds out here. You can see a lot of people came earlier to see the flag raising. But one thing that you will not see here at Tiananmen Square are any protesters who oppose the move that China is about to make, abolishing presidential term limits, effectively allowing China's authoritarian leader Xi Jinping to be the president for life.

A lot of people, pro-democracy activists in China, had hoped that he would allow the peaceful transfer of power after his second presidential term but instead he's setting up a scenario that a lot of fear could be a return to China's brutal dictatorship, the dictatorship of Mao Zedong that saw millions reportedly die during the Cultural Revolution. His portrait still hangs here in Tiananmen Square.

This is a country that doesn't allow political dissent. A country that has a communist party that must be encouraged hearing President Trump, the leader of the free world, saying that he supports the idea of a president essentially ruling for life. Somebody who's supposed to represent the voice of democracy in the world, saying he's on the side of authoritarian China, and now on the side of people here in China who are trying to post on social media saying they disagree with this because China has banned a lot of the terms that would allow people to criticize or make jokes about what's going to be happening in this building behind me.

And even CNN's coverage as we're speaking right now in China is being blacked out. I had a piece of video from earlier when I was filing a report for CNN International, Ana. As soon as we start to talk about this, the censors cut our signal to black.

CABRERA: Wow.

RIPLEY: That's how it works here in this country and we're seeing -- yes. OK. Yes, we have credentials here. We're all right. We're good. Yes. Yes. We're good. Thanks. Yes, you can see it's even sensitive for us to be here.

CABRERA: Wow.

RIPLEY: They're plain clothes police, there are police officers, people listening to what we're saying and they don't like us talking about Tiananmen Square, which of course was the scene of a brutal crackdown in 1989. Remember many people died here when pro-democracy activists turned out. You don't see any protesters out here today and that's the way it works here in China and apparently they have the backing of President Trump -- Ana.

[18:15:02] CABRERA: Will Ripley, in Tiananmen Square. Thank you for that reality check, Will.

Coming up, a rough week for the president. One of the top advisers resigns, a public battle with his attorney general and now Trump's allies are sounding the alarm that the president may be spiraling. We'll discuss. Stay right there. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Something is very wrong. That is how one Trump ally described a stunning week of chaos at the White House. From the departure of a top aide to a public feud with the attorney general to wild swings in policy. As CNN's own Gloria Borger put it, not since Richard Nixon started talking to the portraits on the walls in the West Wing has the president seemed so alone against the world.

I want to bring in my panel, political commentator and "USA Today" columnist Kurt Bardella, White House reporter for the "Daily Beast" Lachlan Markay and "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg.

So, guys, speaking at a dinner last night, the president said this, and I quote, "I like chaos, it really is good.

[18:20:03] Now the question everyone keeps asking is, who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania? That is terrible but you love me, honey. Oh, I won't tell you what she said."

So the president, Michelle, all joking aside, talking about, you know, the staff turnover there. But is all of the chaos really something to joke about or is it dangerous what's happening inside the White House?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Of course it's dangerous. It's extremely dangerous. We have a president who even his allies agree is unstable and right now is on the verge of starting a trade war, kind of on the spur of the moment because he had a bad day which is scary, although thank God it's a trade war and not a war- war.

And you know that performance last night was really sort of disgraceful I actually think for a lot of, you know, establishment journalists to be joking around and jostling around with this man who is so hostile to our profession, who is so you know -- who is so violently opposed to the tenets of a free press. It's actually none of this is a laughing matter, it's not even really a laughing matter for him to stand up there and humiliate his long-suffering wife.

CABRERA: But do you think that it could be a step forward, the fact that he is now willing to mingle with the president?

GOLDBERG: No, I mean, I think of course it's not a step forward. It would be a step forward if he was willing to give a press conference. It would be a step forward if they were willing to show even kind of minimal levels of transparency. I think what he did by going to this dinner is he got a lot of journalists to sort of ratify what has been a really, you know, disgraceful departure from ordinary norms of openness and candor with the media.

CABRERA: Going back to this issue of the staff turnover, Kurt, a brand-new CNN poll found that 61 percent believe the president has done a poor job of assembling a team of top advisers at the White House. In addition, 70 percent say they are either very or somewhat concerned about the number of White House employees that don't have permanent security clearances. So for someone who campaigned on the promise that he would hire and

have the best people possible around him, what kind of impact does this have?

KURT BARDELLA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I think what people either understand is that the staff level, that's so important. It's what makes this government go, it's what puts policy into action. And when you have a staff that constantly turns over, a staff that doesn't have the confidence of the president, a staff that's at war with one another, we spend more time talking about the internal mechanics of the White House and the backstabbing and the back and forth that goes on than talking actually about public policy. And that is a terrible and dangerous thing.

The gross instability that we're seeing every day on display in the Trump White House is one of the most dangerous things happening in this country right now. And it's a president who is just growing more and more unstable. He looks around and there's nobody left there that he's going to even know their names are. And we see what happens when he feels that closed in walls because he lashes out. He started a trade war as a temper tantrum because he's not happy about the way his week is going. I think a lot of questions need to start being asked again about the president's mental fitness.

CABRERA: Lachlan, in terms of replacing Hope Hicks who a lot have said was one of his closest advisers inside the White House, who's going to want the job of communications director now? He's already been through three prior to Hope Hicks and we know not only is it difficult to deal with the president who goes off script, but this is a job that could potentially get somebody a one-way ticket to an interview with the special prosecutor?

LACHLAN MARKAY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. Well, Anthony Scaramucci and then Hope Hicks, that's certainly a tough act to follow. And, you know, her -- the quality that really made her so indispensable to this White House was her ability to sort of speak the language that President Trump speaks and translate the inner workings of the White House into a format that the president would understand, one that he would respond to and there are very few other aides in the White House who possess those qualities and would take that job as you mentioned.

I think Kellyanne Conway is really the only one who comes close and she is definitely eyeing something a little more senior and has said for a long time she wants to work on policy. She does not want to work in communications.

And you're right, the pool of talent that this White House can draw from continues getting smaller. We spoke with a Republican operative last week who likened it to a White House running on the sort of B team staff that you generally see in year seven or eight of an administration. Meanwhile, this White House is operating on that sort of staffing, you know, in year two here. So, you know, it doesn't look like it's going to get better simply because it never does. This White House just happens to be further along down that line. CABRERA: One guy who has hung in there is Jeff Sessions. The

president and his attorney general have been in the middle of a very public feud for quite some time.

Here is what former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former Trump adviser Chris Christie said about Sessions today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I don't think that it would be good for the president for Attorney General Sessions to leave but I also think the president has made up his mind in regard to how he feels about the recusal.

[18:25:09] He feels like that was a -- the first sin, the original sin, and he feels slighted by it. He doesn't like it and he's not going to let it go.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: The president has the right to do what he wants to do. And if the president has absolutely no confidence in the attorney general, then the president has to act. Not, you know, just criticize but act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So, Michelle, do you think it's better that Jeff Sessions goes or stays?

GOLDBERG: You know I can't believe I'm saying this because I think Jeff Sessions is one of the truly worst people in public life but I think that he should stay because -- well, first of all, because the president seems to believe the attorney general is his own personal consigliore and there is no person who worked on the campaign who -- a person who wouldn't recuse themselves isn't fit to be attorney general because by all ethical -- you know, all of the ethical standards of the department, it was a no brainer. There was no other option but for him to recuse himself.

And that trump is trying to do apparently is bully him out of this position so that he can appoint a new attorney general who then in turn can shut down the Mueller probe. And you know, Jeff Sessions is one of the very strange plot twists in, you know, this over-the-top episode of -- this over-the-top season of America. That Jeff Sessions who is, you know, I think to most liberals again a truly loathsome character, has nonetheless shown a strange sort of stubborn integrity in the face of Trump's even greater assaults on the rule of law.

CABRERA: I want to talk about policy now, Kurt. The president rattled Republicans this week with mixed messages on guns. Here's just a reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like taking the guns. Take the guns first, go through due process second. It doesn't make sense, I have to wait until I'm 21 to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at 18. I don't know. If you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it passed.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I'd rather have you come up with a strong, strong bill, and really strong on background checks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So he said that on Wednesday but then a top NRA official tweeted this, "POTUS and VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and don't want gun control."

So, Kurt, do you think the NRA is going to win this battle or is this time different?

BARDELLA: Well, I think we've seen this play already before. We saw it with DACA and Dreamers when President Trump held one of those public meetings, negotiated in public for the cameras, seemed to move to a more reasonable position, challenged Congress to give legislation that would fix DACA Dreamers. And then he walked that back a day or two later.

Well, we're seeing the same thing now with guns, that he says what some would consider very reasonable things and probably very true things about the state of gun reform in this country. There's an appetite for it, people want it. And then after a public pressure, after getting denounced by some conservatives, meeting with the NRA in private, he walks that back yet again.

It just shows that Trump always negotiates with whoever is right in front of him that very second. And whatever he tells you is only as good as long as you're in the room. And the minute that somebody else walks in the Oval Office he's just as likely to change his opinion and completely contradict himself.

CABRERA: Got to leave it there, guys. Lachlan, I owe you a question first next time. Thank you all for joining us, Kurt Bardella, Lachlan Markay and Michelle Goldberg.

All right. In this week's "Before the Bell," President Trump's tariff talk sends a nervous shock through Wall Street. And our American workers getting a pay raise?

Christine Romans looking at those stories for us. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. The big story, will the president follow through on his trade threats? Last week he said the administration would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. The president said trade wars are a good thing. It is not a good thing for stocks or investors. That was a real problem in the markets at the end of the week. The big question now, will certain countries be exempt? What are details to be flushed out?

On Friday the government releases the February jobs report. You probably remember the last report sparked a huge wave of selling on Wall Street. It showed wages grew at the fastest pace since 2009. That raised fears of inflation and higher interest rates.

So were those wage gains an anomaly or just the beginning of a sustained rise in paychecks? If it's the latter that could trigger more selling as inflation fears re-ignite.

Friday also happens to be the current bull market's ninth birthday. It's already the second longest bull market in history. Despite February's swoon, the S&P 500 is up more than 300 percent since March 9th, 2009. Will this bull live to see its tenth birthday? That's the question many investors are asking.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.

CABRERA: Thanks, Christine.

Coming up, evangelicals are a big part of Trump's base but now they're split. Are they going to stick with this president or not?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

CABRERA: White evangelicals were some of President Trump's strongest supporters in the 2016 election. CNN exit polls found 80 percent of them voted for him. That support from voters in that group is starting to slip. CNN's Alex Marquardt takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREG LOCKE, FOUNDER AND PASTOR, GLOBAL VISION BIBLE CHURCH: You, ladies and gentlemen, must get right with God.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunday morning in a small country church outside Nashville.

LOCKE: Revival will only come to the evangelical church in America when God awakens us --

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Pastor Greg Locke preaches to pews full of White, conservative, evangelical Christians. Most, he tells us, voted for Donald Trump.

[18:35:03] LOCKE: I'm pretty proud of him. I voted for him. I'll vote for him again.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Trump support among White evangelicals is falling, but the vast majority have stuck by him as he repeatedly tests the limits of Christian values amid allegations of misogyny, racism, adultery, and his support for accused child molester, Roy Moore.

MARQUARDT (on camera): To what extent do you think evangelicals are looking at the President and saying, all right, he might not be born again but, you know what, he's getting done exactly what we want to get done so that --

LOCKE: Well --

MARQUARDT (on camera): -- that's all we need.

LOCKE: I think that's a lot of it because whether he is or whether he isn't, he is giving evangelicals a platform, and he has given them a voice that we've always wanted that I think we lost for a lot of reasons. So I think with a lot of evangelicals, it's not just blind followship but it's the end justifies the means.

RITA FREEMAN, CHURCHGOER, GLOBAL VISION BIBLE CHURCH: The way he stands for the Christian values is just --

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Rita Freeman won't say whether Trump is a Christian. But as one herself, she is quick to forgive.

FREEMAN: The first thing that comes to my mind is, if you're without sin, cast the first stone. There is none of us without sin.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): According to the Pew Research Center, Tennessee has the highest percentage of evangelicals in the country. Its Senate race in November, likely between Republican representative Marsha Blackburn and the former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen, will be one of the most closely watched.

And evangelicals are a critical voting bloc. Trump was elected with 80 percent of the White evangelical vote. Today, his approval with them stands at 63 percent. Still solid but cracks are showing.

Grace Point Church is a haven for Christians who no longer feel at home in the evangelical movement. At dinner, they tell us there's an existential crisis.

JEFF CLARK, CHURCHGOER, GLOBAL VISION BIBLE CHURCH: Whether we call it a paradigm shift or an existential moment or whatever we want to call it -- or the phrase that's used already this evening, death rattle -- this thing disappearing in front of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're seeing people say enough is enough. We're not going to stand for tearing people down. We're not going to stand for bullying people.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Dan Scott is a pastor at Nashville's evangelical Christ Church, a conservative and a harsh critic of the President who agrees Trump is fueling the break-up of evangelicalism.

DAN SCOTT, SENIOR PASTOR, CHRIST CHURCH NASHVILLE: What do evangelicals want? Do we want to spread the gospel of Christ, the teachings of Jesus, or do we want power?

MARQUARDT (on camera): The Reverend Graham just passed away. He famously stayed away from politics.

SCOTT: Yes.

MARQUARDT (on camera): Do you think that the core of evangelicals these days have lost their way? SCOTT: Well, yes, I do. It's a phenomenon mostly of White churches,

and it's been a mistake. It's compromised and prostituted our faith, I would argue.

MARQUARDT (on camera): You sound frustrated, disappointed?

SCOTT: I am. I think the church in America is losing its way.

MARQUARDT (on camera): The fact is no one these days can say what an evangelical really is. For decades, it has become more and more of a political term rather than a religious one, and this Trump era has driven even deeper wedges among these very conservative Christians.

Many of them are thrilled that their priorities are at the top of President Trump's list while many others can't even stomach the idea of supporting him, which could mean the end of evangelicalism as we know it.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Still ahead, teachers in West Virginia say they'll still be on strike tomorrow, which will be day eight of a walkout over pay. Almost 300,000 students are not going to class while this strike is on. Details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:25] CABRERA: Breaking news in the West Virginia school strike, moments ago the State Department of Education canceled all public school classes again tomorrow. That means eight days that students have been kept from classes.

Now, the teachers want a five percent pay raise. This weekend, West Virginia lawmakers debated this issue and came up short.

I want to bring in CNN's Kaylee Hartung. Kaylee, how far apart are these teachers and lawmakers. Any sign of some kind of settlement?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, there is no sign of a settlement at this hour. Over the weekend, emotional arguments in the West Virginia legislature.

While the Senate approved a pay raise of four percent for teachers, all that did was infuriate teachers. The House rejected that bill. They had already given the OK for the five percent raise.

So the focus of frustration is now on the Senate GOP members, the ones who say that that extra one percent which would cost the state $13 million is a bill they cannot afford.

Now, teachers witnessed the legislative process in the works yesterday from the gallery, and it left them feeling disheartened and confused.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTINE CAMPBELL, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOUNDATION OF TEACHERS-WEST VIRGINIA: We're playing with people's emotions, their livelihoods, and it directly affects our students. So let's do this right. Let's do it to keep, attract, and retain teachers in West Virginia, keep our service personnel at the living -- you know, get them to a living wage.

This is unprecedented. It's confusing. And it's just really -- again, I think they're disheartened by the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARTUNG: To put this into context, teachers in West Virginia make about $45,000 a year. They are among the lowest paid educators in the country. The five percent increase that they are asking for, that would give each teacher an extra about $2,000 a year. That adds up to a $50 million tab for the state to pay annually.

So now what happens next? After this impasse that was stopped at over the weekend, well, a legislative conference will convene. That likely means that each chamber will appoint a three-member team, and it will be their job to resolve this four versus five percent difference.

Ana, we don't know when this legislative conference will meet, but what we do know is that classes are canceled for an eighth day tomorrow with 300,000 students left out of the classroom.

CABRERA: I'm sure a lot of students are cheering, but, obviously, parents are saying, no, this is awful. And those teachers too, really fighting for this.

[18:45:02] Thank you, Kaylee Hartung, for the update there.

Coming up, California agents knocking on doors, looking for guns, and legally seizing them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How do you feel right now?

TIMOTHY POPE, LISTED IN THE ARMED PROHIBITED PERSON SYSTEM DATABASE: Stupid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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CABRERA: Nobody knew quite what to think. That was the general reaction after an extraordinary meeting on guns between President Trump and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle this week.

The President called out members of his own party for being afraid of the NRA, and he even appeared to side with Democrats at times. But now, a top NRA lobbyist who met with President Trump after that meeting is signaling the President may be backing down from his support for stricter gun control. [18:50:06] So while we want to see how this all plays out and we wait

for it, some states are taking matters into their own hands. Here's Stephanie Elam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): More than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, three semi- automatic weapons, a shotgun, and a pistol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the assault weapons was fixed with a bump stock.

ELAM (voice-over): Bump stocks, like what the Las Vegas mass shooter used to mimic automatic firing, were banned in California in 1990. Altogether, it's an arsenal 57-year-old Timothy Pope is not allowed to have.

POPE: I forgot they were even here, really.

ELAM (voice-over): He was previously convicted of possessing a destructive device, a felony.

ELAM (on camera): Do you remember being notified and told that you can't have guns anymore?

POPE: Yes, in the court.

ELAM (on camera): How do you feel right now?

POPE: Stupid.

ELAM (voice-over): This bust coming at the end of the daily mission for these California Department of Justice agents who door-knocked targeted homes in search of weapons in the wrong hands.

XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA: Only in California do we have a law that permits us that seize these weapons.

ELAM (voice-over): It's the only system of its kind in the nation. The Armed Prohibited Person System or APPS flags those who previously registered firearms but were later deemed unfit to own a gun after a felony conviction, violent misdemeanor, domestic violence restraining order, or found to be mentally unstable.

Using the APPS data, agents visit Pope, who now likely faces a new set of felony charges, including the possession of so-called ghost guns, homemade weapons free of serial numbers officials use to track guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine if these guns got in the wrong hands through a burglary?

ELAM (voice-over): California's Department of Justice has recovered 18,000 firearms since the program began. More than 10,000 people are on the list statewide.

As the country is again embroiled in the gun control debate, some point out that APPS would not have caught the mass shooters in San Bernardino and Isla Vista, California.

ELAM (on camera): There some out there who say, with all the shootings that we have seen across the country, that none of these -- that the APPS program would not have stopped that. What do you say that?

SAM RICHARDSON, SPECIAL AGENT, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: I say that it's impossible for us to measure the success of this operation because nobody knows whether or not one of the guns that we seized would have been in the next mass shooting.

ELAM (voice-over): Another concern for Second Amendment advocates, how well the database is kept up to date.

CRAIG DELUZ, SPOKESMAN, FIREARMS POLICY COALITION: And the people that are prohibited are appropriately notified and given ample opportunity to get rid of the firearms and ammunition so that they're not in further violation of the law.

ELAM (voice-over): But after a night like that, these officers believe APPS is a good place to start and that other states should follow California's lead.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Today, the world is marking the passing of Sir Roger Bannister. On a damp, windy day in May of 1954, the British medical student did something no human being had ever done before. In fact, many thought it was impossible.

The 25-year-old ran a mile in less than four minutes. His exact time, three minutes, 59.4 seconds. That fete made front-page news all around the world.

Other runners have done it since, but he was the first. And he has been an inspiration to athletes around the world, including myself. He soon quit running to focus on his medical career as a neurologist, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975.

Sir Roger Bannister died at his home yesterday surrounded by his family. He was 88.

We'll be right back.

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[18:57:47] CABRERA: Finally this hour, a beloved decades-old cartoon character is making a comeback. All because of President Trump. Here is Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The President who once said he was proud to call Jeff Sessions Attorney General now calls him Mr. Magoo.

According to "The Washington Post," President Trump privately refers to Sessions as the bumbling cartoon character so nearsighted he mistakes a mounted moose for a man.

JIM BACKUS, ACTOR: Is this Hodge Podge Lodge?

MOOS (voice-over): Cue the split screens, they're now all over the internet as someone imagined Mr. Magoo himself saying, turn on the Twitter, baby, I'm trending.

Someone else is singeing both the President and the Attorney General by having Magoo declare, I'm will not be compared to that nincompoop by that nincompoop.

BACKUS: I'll blast you!

MOOS (on camera): President Trump, you're dating yourself. Mr. Magoo was created in 1949. Millennials are saying, Magoo who?

MOOS (voice-over): The original Magoo was created by left-leaning animators riffing on conservatism in the era of Hollywood blacklisting.

President Trump is catching flack for using the childish nickname. Our cartoon president, read one comment. From comedians, yes, I would laugh. From the President, well, that's not leadership.

Comedians like Stephen Colbert --

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Please welcome Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

MOOS (voice-over): -- can't resist Sessions.

COLBERT: Thank you.

MOOS (voice-over): Some see a resemblance to the Keebler elf. So Colbert does a recurring Keebler cookie bit imitating Sessions.

COLBERT: These insults are coming to the quick. To the quick, I say! Or actually my delicious, fudgy center.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS (voice-over): And "SNL's" Kate McKinnon plays him as an opossum- like creature.

KATE MCKINNON, ACTRESS: Oh, no. I dropped my loofah. But don't worry, my trusty little tail is going to get it.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS (voice-over): Sure, Mitch McConnell has been compared to a turtle for years.

JON STEWART, FORMER HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": You carry your house around on your back.

MOOS (voice-over): But least he doesn't have the President on his back calling him names.

BACKUS: Twinkle toes Magoo, they called me.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN.

MCKINNON: Well, I'm not an elf on the shelf, I'm Jeff Sessions.

MOOS (voice-over): New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[19:00:08] CABRERA: It's 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 in the afternoon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. So glad you could join us.