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President Trump's busy week after his first 100 days; Latest Obamacare replacement plan; President Trump's interview with John Dickerson; North Korea Tensions; Storms hit South and Midwest; Roasting of President Trump; Trump campaign ties to Russia, a phony story; Congress' investigation on General Flynn; Taraji P. Henson on Hollywood inequality and diversity; Impersonating Trump. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 30, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: Meantime, inside the Beltway, pundits are digesting his latest interview where they touched on everything from health care and the push to repealing and replace Obamacare. To North Korea which maybe his biggest foreign policy challenge. You'll hear from the president on those topics tonight.
And the fate of one campaign promise, health care reform, remains in the hands of Congress and we could see a vote on this plan as soon as this week after today's interviews shed light on what is and isn't in the GOP plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare. President Trump was once again pressed on what happens to people with pre-existing conditions. Here he is on CBS this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago. OK? This bill has evolved. And we didn't have the failure on the bill. It was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn't have done again is put a timeline. That's why on the second iteration I didn't put a timeline. But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill, we have -- we've set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We're taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete nationwide.
JOHN DICKERSON, FACE THE NATION SHOW HOST, CBS NEWS: But that's not in this bill. The borders are not in this bill.
TRUMP: Of course it's in.
DICKERSON: It's in the third bill, right, because --
TRUMP: It's in the second phase. Its called phase one, phase two. And that's in fact second phase, which will get approved, which will quickly get approved.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: White House correspondent Athena Jones is with us now, and Athena, the president is talking about a deal that was cut between Republican moderate Congressman Tom MacArthur and leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. I understand Vice President Pence gave more details on these high-risk pools we heard the president reference that are supposed to cover people with pre-existing conditions but give states a lot more leeway. Explain.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. That's right. The reason this is important is because this has been one of the major sticking points on getting Republicans to come together on this latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. You have a lot of moderate Republicans who are very concerned about making sure that people with pre-existing conditions continue to get coverage and coverage that is affordable.
In this latest GOP proposal, insurers are required to cover people with pre-existing conditions, but they could be allowed to charge them more than other people in the plan if they ever let their coverage lapse, for instance. And there are a lot of details still being worked out. As you mentioned, Vice President Mike Pence on "Meet The Press" went into a little bit more detail about how this coverage of pre- existing conditions would work. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're basically borrowing an idea from the state of Maine that has seen a significant drop in premiums for people on their health insurance because you take people that have pre-existing and costly conditions, and put them into a high-risk pool and you subsidize that so that it is affordable to those individuals.
And so you're guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, and the flexibility that you're referring to in this latest MacArthur amendment, states can only apply for that waiver and flexibility if they have either a federal or state high-risk pool that guarantees that people will be able to have coverage and it will be affordable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: So there you heard the vice president explaining how this would work saying that states will have the option of opting out of covering people with pre-existing conditions but only if they've already set up these high-risk pools to help make coverage more affordable. The problem here is that people have questions about whether those pools would be subsidized enough to make sure that the coverage is affordable.
And the bottom line here, Ana, is that as of right now it doesn't appear or certainly didn't appear as of late last week that there was enough Republican support even with this new proposal to get this bill passed. We're going to have to see if they can gain support in the coming days.
CABRERA: And it sounds like there are just no guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered to the extent that they can afford health care policies, even if they aren't excluded from those policies.
CABRERA: But I think bigger picture here, what is potential timeline that's in place now for the White House or the House to take up new legislation?
JONES: That is the big question. Certainly the White House would like to see a vote as soon as possible. We've heard this from the president on down. We've also heard folks at the White House echo House Speaker Paul Ryan who's made it very, very clear, they do not want to bring this bill, this second attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare to the floor until they know they have the votes. And that is the big question mark, are they going to be able to get those votes?
There is no vote scheduled this week but folks would like to see a vote this week. And we do expect there are going to be more meetings with wavering Republicans to try to get them on board, but we can guarantee that when there is a vote scheduled, it will be when House Republican leadership feels that they have the support they need. It is not going to happen before that, Ana.
[17:05:00] CABRERA: Alright, Athena Jones reporting at the White House. Thank you. Meantime, Arizona Senator John McCain has some advice for world leaders concerned about the mixed messages on foreign policy coming out of the White House. Senator McCain shared some of that advice about interpreting President Trump's messages on "State Of The Union" with jake tapper. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I tell them that he is surrounding himself with an outstanding national security team. I can't guarantee to world leaders that he will always listen to them, but he has so far. Sometimes it's important to watch what the president does rather than what he says.
I think that some of the things that he -- actions that he's taken, particularly the cruise missile crisis including examining the fact that we're not winning in Afghanistan, that we're going to need more troops there, that after, as you mentioned earlier, 16 years and we're losing -- or certainly not winning. And there are measures that he is listening to these outstanding military leaders and taking their advice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Watch what he does, rather than what he says. Now, an example of some of the mixed messages, in early April the president said an aircraft carrier strike group was headed to South Korea, but days later it was revealed that the naval group wasn't actually traveling there at that moment after all. It has since been deployed to the region, however. Now, President Trump also had a great deal to say about North Korea
today including a description of leader Kim Jong-Un as "a pretty smart cookie." Saturday's interview came just after North Korea carried out another failed missile test, something Trump seemed to down downplay in his comments. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It was a small missile. This was not a big missile. This was not a nuclear test which he was expected to do three days ago. We'll see what happens.
DICKERSON: You say not happy. What does that mean?
TRUMP: I would not be happy. If he does a nuclear test, I will not be happy. And I can tell you also, I don't believe that the president of China who is a very respected man will not be happy either.
DICKERSON: Not happy, meaning military action?
TRUMP: I don't know. I mean, we'll see.
DICKERSON: The Chinese, our allies, have been allies with North Korea. How are you sure that they're not using this as a way to test you?
TRUMP: You can never be sure of anything, can you? But I've developed a very good relationship. I don't think they want to see a destabilized North Korea. I think they want to see it. They certainly don't want to see nuclear on -- from their neighbor. They haven't liked it for a long time. But we'll have to see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us now. Elise, McCain talked about Trump's mixed messages to U.S. allies but can his words be confusing for unfriendly regimes too, like North Korea? "Not happy" can be hard to interpret. No?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It can be hard to interpret and they don't know what he would do if they did take such action. A lot of times North Korea takes actions to provoke and wants to get attention. But they don't really know and I think that's what President Trump is trying to do here.
I think one of the problems is that President Trump doesn't understand the power of his words. Sometimes he does want to send messages, but he doesn't -- I don't think he's had enough time on the job to know what leaders, unpredictable leaders like Kim Jong-Un, how they're going to interpret and how they would proceed.
So, I think it's a very careful balance. He did say some kind of positive things to Kim Jong-Un about, you know, the fact that he was kind of buttering him up, the fact that this was a young leader that took over, that he was a smart cookie for the way he's been able to hold on to power. But I think, you know, with an unpredictable leader like this, it is a real gamble.
CABRERA: And President Trump keeps on coming back to a relationship he built with President Xi over the weekend in Florida. China does have long-standing relationships with North Korea. If push comes to shove, are there any indications how far Beijing is willing to go to pressure the regime?
LABOTT: Well, I think China has taken some steps in the recent month or so. They've cut down on coal exports from North Korea significantly. They've also choked off Air China flights between Pyongyang and Beijing, which I think is a very symbolic move. And it is also a signal to North Korea that if it takes another nuclear test, if it continues, they could do more.
They could cut off oil imports to North Korea which is something that the U.S. has been looking for them to do. But I think at the same time, China does not want to see -- when President Trump says he doesn't want -- China doesn't want to see destabilized North Korea, China thinks that if the regime were to collapse, they would see thousands of refugees teeming across the border. So they don't want to push North Korea too far. I think they've signaled that they're willing to take some steps, but I certainly don't think that it is going be to enough that the
[17:10:00] United States will be happy, where there maybe even enough to move North Korea over the long term. They could do things that make North Korea move temporarily, but those long-term moves, we'll have to see.
CABRERA: Well, that's a challenging situation. Elise Labott, thank you.
Let's talk more about the Trump administration's foreign policy with regards to the Korean Peninsula. Rhode Island Democratic senator Jack Reed is joining me now from Providence. He is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, thanks for spending some of your weekend with us.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I didn't say (INAUDIBLE) the message. He's going to have to do what he has to do.
CABRERA: Today, I want to play some of what we heard from President Trump on CBS's "Face the Nation." He said he had no idea if North Korea's president, Kim Jong-Un was sane but he called him a "pretty smart cookie" noting Kim had assumed power at a young age while dealing with some pretty tough people. Senator, when you hear that, what do you make of the president's comments?
REED: Well, the president's comments are very difficult to decipher sometimes because in many cases they contradict or in some cases are ill-informed. His comments about, for example, the deployment of the THAAD system into South Korea where he was suggesting that the Koreans should pay for it was a very confusing statement, not just for the regional power particularly the South Koreans because they have already made significant political payments in terms of boycott from China. They're agreeing to give us the land, build a base. And by the way,
that THAAD missile system is going to protect 28,000 Americans. And the sense I have, too, is that it was not coordinated with any of his national security team.
He has a very good national security team but people will look to him rather than the Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State when he makes a statement. So, it's very confusing, difficult to read and I don't think it's going to contribute to a long-term policy that's effective.
CABRERA: Let's hear what his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, had to say on this very issue as you're talking about South Korea and who should pay for the THAAD Missile Defense System. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: What I told our South Korean counterpart is until any renegotiation, the deal is in place. We'll adhere to our word. What the president has asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden sharing, responsibility sharing.
We're looking at that with our great ally, South Korea. We're looking at that with NATO, and what you've seen, because of the president's leadership, more and more nations are contributing more to our collective defense.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY SHOW HOST, FOX NEWS: So the question of who pays the billion dollars is still up in the air?
MCMASTER: The question of what is the relationship on THAAD, on our defense relationship going forward would be renegotiated as it is going to be with all of our allies, because what the president has said is he will prioritize American citizens' security and interests. And to do that, we need strong alliances. But also to do that effectively, in a way that's sustainable economically, we need everybody to pay their fair share.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So senator, I heard you say it may not be the timing to talk about renegotiating this deal with South Korea and who pays for the THAAD Missile Defense System, but, this is a billion dollar system to defend South Korea largely. Shouldn't they help pay for it?
REED: Well, South Korea pays about 40 percent of the cost of our forces in South Korea. They are one of the most significant allies in terms not just of being prepared to fight themselves, fight alongside us, but also to shoulder many of the expenses. They agreed and we agreed that we would provide the THAAD system.
They reportedly have donated the land. We'll build a base. And again, we're protecting American military personnel -- 28,000 Americans and their families are there. So, this is not some gratuitous gift for a country where we have no issue in the fight. We have a huge issue in the fight. And my guess is he did not coordinate with H.R. McMaster or General Mattis or Secretary Tillerson. He just made this statement and it's particularly sensitive --
CABRERA: So you think they're playing clean-up?
REED: Well, they're playing really a clean-up, and a sensitive issue too, the South Koreans are in the midst of an election. There are candidates who are running. We want those candidates to be able to -- and the people of South Korea to assume that our word is good, that we're going to stick with them, we're not going to change course two or three months from now.
And it reflects also on this statement which he made I think without proper information about the Carl Vinson battle group that was steaming towards South Korea or North Korea, the Korean Peninsula when in fact it wasn't. That caused a lot of dismay in South Korea. People thought that they were going to be protected.
Other people thought frankly that this could be provocative. But this -- these comments are disruptive and they don't suggest to me coordination with his leaders. And another point that should be made is that the whole department of state and to a degree (INAUDIBLE) defense is understaffed. He hasn't even put together a government of key leaders below the secretarial level, and that has to be done immediately. It hasn't been done. So, with a --
[17:15:03] CABRERA: There are hundreds of positions left unfilled, we know. Now, we know the president has also been reaching out to other countries, other region leaders over in Southeast Asia. But we learned he's invited now the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, excuse me, to visit is the U.S. and critics of the president and critics of Duterte in particular say his war on drugs has led to the death of thousands of his citizens. But the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus says they need his cooperation to deal with North Korea. Do you agree?
REED: I think scheduling a meeting this early in the president's term with Duterte is not appropriate. His human rights record is very questionable. His commitment to the law and his commitment to treating the people of the Philippines, his people fairly is very he questionable. I think this is not the appropriate time to bring him to the White House.
And whatever role he plays in our relationships, it is much, much less than a relationship we should be building. And the president, to his credit, is trying to build a relationship with China and also has to reach out to the Russians.
CABRERA: Senator Jack Reed, thank you for your time.
REED: Thank you.
CABRERA: Ahead this hour, deadly storms rip through the south leaving a trail of damage in their path. Look at these pictures. We'll tell you where the storms are headed next. Plus --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HASAN MINHAJ, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY SHOW: I get why Donald Trump didn't want to be roasted tonight. By the looks of him, he's been roasting non-stop for the past 70 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: The president gets roasted. We've got the best moments from the White House Correspondents' Dinner. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."
[17:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Heartbreaking. That's how the mayor of Canton, Texas describes the aftermath of a deadly tornado that slammed into the town.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS COLLURA, STORM CHASER: Going to hit the power lines. My god.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: This monster twister, one of at least three that hit east of Dallas yesterday. It was part of a storm system blamed for at least eight deaths across the south and the midwest. You can see the destruction. More than 30 million people are now under flash flood watches and warnings today as the severe weather moves east. CNN Polo Sandoval is following the storm for us. What is the latest Polo?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The city of Canton, Texas as you mentioned just east of Dallas is perhaps the hardest hit area here. Authorities here continue to go door to door making sure that they didn't miss any survivors. There was some concern that the death toll of at least four people confirmed dead in the city could possibly go up. However, the mayor speaking in the last hour saying that that may be unlikely especially as they continue to clear what is left of some of these homes, Ana.
As you can imagine, as you just said, it's truly a heartbreaking scene -- its how local officials describe it there. Also a very upsetting scene north of there though, some heartbreak and very similar pictures as well including at the St. John Catholic church. The images just as disheartening there, however, what we have seen are several individuals that have come forward to celebrate mass outside that catholic church that was destroyed during the storm.
In fact I'm told after speaking to a representative with the diocese, that there were about 45 individuals that had gathered at that church last night celebrating a graduation party when they were told to seek shelter. And now you can see why. And some of these pictures here because of that storm blew through. There were several individuals that actually had to hold the doors shut protecting some of the children inside.
Eventually though the storm was able to pass and they rode out the storm and made it out unharmed. Some of those parishioners are using the word "miraculous" to describe the fact that nobody was hurt there. And then today, they all gathered in the parking lot just feet away from that mangled metal and pile of debris to celebrate mass.
So Ana, those are some of the images that are offering hope for healing in an area that badly needs it and as you just showed a few moments ago in the radar, there is that threat for even more severe weather along the southeast. Officials recommending people remain on alert, especially since this string of storms has proven its deadly potential already. Ana.
CABRERA: Tough pictures to see and we certainly send our positive and healing wishes their way. Polo Sandoval, thank you.
Still ahead, total phony story. That is how President Trump is responding to questions about the investigation into possible campaign ties to Russia. A member of the House Intelligence Committee will respond live next. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."
[17:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: We've learned a lot of revealing new details this week about President Trump's ex-national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and his relationship with Russia. The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz, acknowledged Flynn probably broke the law when he took money from the Russian government's TV network, RTV. And President Trump tried to deflect questions about how Flynn was vetted by his team by blaming the Obama administration for giving him the security clearance in the first place. Here's the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The concept of Russia with respect to us is a total phony story. No.
DICKERSON: You mean the Trump campaign.
TRUMP: Of course it's a total phony story. In fact, I just heard where General Flynn got his clearance from the Obama administration.
DICKERSON: But you don't mean --
TRUMP: Excuse me. And when he went to Russia, I didn't realize this. When he went to Russia, it was 2015 and he was on the Obama clearance. When General Flynn came to us, as you now know, he already had the highest clearance you can have. I think the same clearance as the president of the United States would have. He had this really high clearance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Democratic congressman Mike Quigley is joining me now. He serves on the house intelligence committee investigating Russia's possibly interference in the 2016 election. Congressman, what's your response to what we just heard from President Trump? REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Yes. As far as the Russian
investigation goes, Ana, apparently the president of the United States is going through two phases at the same time, anger and denial. And it's just breathtaking that he would blame the Obama administration for General Flynn. He might have noticed that the Obama administration fired the general, and between those two times, there were a lot of activities that would have raised a lot of questions, red flags. But they rushed the vetting process through a number of their nominees, and, unfortunately, they're paying the price now.
CABRERA: But, Michael Flynn was vetted by the Obama administration and the incidents in question happened back in 2014. So that would have been under the Obama administration and would have had to go through their vetting process. So do you believe
[17:30:00] the Obama administration bears no responsibility?
QUIGLEY: Well, I think there were mistakes made then, but for the president of United States now to blame the entire problem on the Obama administration, and there is a big demarcation there. He was fired, right? That should send some major signals to you that there is a problem here. And they were aware of other concerns.
And, oh, by the way, when Ms. Yates testifies, we're going to find out exactly what she told the White House and when she told the White House about possibilities of blackmail between Russia and General Flynn and the connections between the Russian ambassador and General Flynn. And the fact that they held on for some time after that before they finally got caught and decided to fire the general.
CABRERA: Sally Yates is of course the former acting attorney general before she was fired by President Trump. But your committee canceled the testifying -- the testimony that she was supposed to have that hearing previously. I know that was when Devin Nunez was still leading the investigation. But has there been a reschedule of that hearing yet?
QUIGLEY: Clearly, it wasn't a Democratic idea that canceled that public hearing. It has not been formally scheduled yet, rescheduled at this point in time. But I do look optimistically at the investigation now. We look forward to working with Mr. Conaway. This week we do have a closed hearing with Admiral Rogers and Director Comey and I anticipate the investigation going forward full force, rescheduling that public hearing and going on with the everyday work that is before us.
CABRERA: Who else has the committee agreed upon in terms of witnesses that you want to hear from?
QUIGLEY: Yes. There is an agreed witness list. There has been a bipartisan understanding not to reveal that ahead of time, just so we can do the proper vetting and get the preparation prepared for all of these witnesses. So that information will come out very soon. I anticipate these hearings will be scheduled in the coming weeks.
CABRERA: Now as we mentioned, the big headlines this past week were about Michael Flynn, the Inspector General investigation to his paid speeches that he gave in Russia that he didn't initially disclose and that he had not -- in fact he had been warned not to do. How does this development affect the house intelligence investigation?
QUIGLEY: Well, the only thing I've heard so far is that he had asked for immunity. But it's far too soon to even consider that at this point in time. We have to be mindful of our colleagues on the Senate side doing the same investigation, and obviously there is a Justice Department investigation.
So, you'll have to find out from them where they are with this part of the investigation. Where the Pentagon investigation is with General Flynn, whether there is an understanding as to his testimony, a proffer. So, we're looking at that. I think those are possibilities in the future. But obviously the Justice Department will take the lead.
CABRERA: In your opinion, as a former criminal defense attorney, did Flynn break the law?
QUIGLEY: You know, given what -- all I know at this point is what Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Cummings said. If what they are saying is accurate, he could absolutely be charged with these crimes. But that obviously will be with the Justice Department. As I said before, remembering him leading the chants of "lock her up" and "lock her up" at the Republican convention, I think right now the court of karma has General Flynn before them.
CABRERA: Representative Quigley, thanks for joining us tonight.
QUIGLYE: Thank you. Take care.
CABRERA: Straight ahead, it was a presidential roasting at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIHAJ: We got to address the elephant that's not in the room.
The leader of our country is not here, and that's because he lives in Moscow. It is a very long flight. It would be hard for Vlad to make it. Vlad can't just make it on a Saturday. It's a Saturday!
[17:35:00] (COMMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: It's the one night when traditionally the gloves come off. Everyone makes their best jokes about the president -- to the president's face. But this weekend it was different. Of course I'm talking about the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner that the President Trump chose not to attend. He was still the biggest topic of discussion, however.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MINHAJ: The president didn't show up because Donald Trump doesn't care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Not a particularly funny moment from the keynote speaker and it wasn't meant to be. But I wanted you to hear that next to this, the White House chief of staff today is saying the president is actually talked about changing certain laws that protect free speech. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it is something that we've looked at and how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Remember, the president hinted that during the campaign, that he would explore the possibility of suing media outlets that publish things he disagreed with. And here with me to discuss, two guys who make their living under the protection of the first amendment, CNN opinion contributor and SiriusXm host Dean Obeidallah and CNN political contributor and radio host, Ben Ferguson.
Guys, just heard Reince Priebus say the White House has looked at changing the libel laws. Dean, this is your bread and butter. Do you feel a little bit vulnerable?
DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: Very vulnerable. I mean, Donald Trump during the campaign, he at one point vowed to change the libel laws to make it easier to sue media outlets he didn't like. But even more stunning, in October during the campaign, Donald Trump tweeted calling for "Saturday Night Live," the iconic late night show,
[17:40:00] to be canceled because he didn't like the way it was mocking him. And even after winning the election in January, he lashed out against "Saturday Night Live." He has a history in years past suing comedians like Bill Maher for $5 million in 2013 over a joke he didn't like. So Donald Trump's track record on freedom of expression and speech is not that great. So I'd be very concerned if there is any type of change in the libel laws that make it easier to stifle any kind of dissent.
CABRERA: Ben, how concerning is this to you?
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not as concerned because I think there is still a burden of proof when you go to court if you sue somebody on a libel law making it easier for someone to sue another person because they are attacking you and saying things that you believe are just flat-out lies and/or untrue. It is not an issue for me because ultimately you have the ability in a court to be able to explain why you said what you said.
That doesn't mean that you are somehow stifling free speech. You still have the right to say it. It doesn't mean that you can say anything you want, however you want, wherever you wanted. And as for him saying the show should be cancelled, there are a lot of shows out there that aren't very good, there are a lot of shows that are funny.
And to say that you want a show to be canceled because you don't think it's funny anymore, that's not remedying free speech. That's actually using free speech to say you think a show is pretty pathetic and ought to be canceled. So, let's not over react to what the president actually said on this one.
CABRERA: Dean, I know you know the comedian who gave the roast last night, Hasan Minhaj. How do you think he did?
OBEIDALLAH: I think he did great. I think he was the perfect choice. You know, he's not famous so he came in where the focus of the event was freedom of expression, the first amendment last night. But I think the fact that Hasan's Muslim, I'm Muslim, but the fact Hasan's Muslim and President Trump during the campaign truly dehumanized the most of saying things like Islam hates us.
And on 9/11 thousand of Muslims (INAUDIBLE) New Jersey. Rudy Giuliani even said that wasn't true. So when complete Muslim bans honest during the campaign, having a Muslim comedian respond made me proud. I think it was perfect. The only better choice would have been a Muslim- Mexican, a disabled woman. All the things Donald Trump demonized in one person would be the perfect comedic choice. But barring that, Hasan Minhaj I thought was really funny. He took on the media as well as President Trump. He had everyone and I think he's really fair on what he did.
CABRERA: Ben, did you find anything funny?
FERGUSON: I found a few of his lines funny but ultimately I did not see a whole lot of comedy here. To me it came across as pretty direct and mean-spirited. It was not funny. It wasn't comedy. I mean, having a few throw-away one-liners, heck, even politicians have been able to pull that off. If you're going to do the White House Correspondents' Dinner, it shouldn't be about a personal vendetta or a mission against the president or even the media or whatever your viewpoint is.
You're supposed to be a comedian. Comedians are supposed to give you comic relief. That means you're supposed to have a room that laughs at your jokes. There wasn't that many laughs and it seemed as if this was somehow trying to settle a score or to be mean-spirited or angry or to fight back at the president. If that's what the White House Correspondents' Dinner wanted last night, they got it and I'd give them an A for doing that.
CABRERA: Dean, you're a comedian. Given the current political and the social climate, are comedians using their platforms differently now than in the past?
OBEIDALLAH: I think for those who are politically attuned, yes, we are using to raise points about politics, but it's a long tradition in America, to make fun of the president, Democrat or Republican. It doesn't matter. You know, in this case with President Trump, I'll be honest, there is a little bit more personal nature involved for many communities which during the campaign he demonized Latinos and disabled and Muslims, and shamed women who came forward to say they were assaulted sexually or inappropriate conduct by the president.
So I think for many, there is a personal thing. So then as saying maybe it is true about evening the score, but Hasan Minhaj, if you listened to him, many jokes killed. He did a great job. He made fun of all the media outlets. It was no different (INAUDIBLE) if the president was sitting there. President Obama was -- he roasted president Obama.
CABRERA: Ben, you're laughing. Why?
FERGUSON: Yes. I'm laughing because there were some one-liners that were funny. But there was a more awkward moments for everyone in the room which many in the room were more than willing to listen to a major roast of Donald Trump. Let's be candid about that. This was personal --
CABRERA: Well, he took pot shots at the media, too, including CNN.
FERGUSON: Yes, but I mean my thing was this. If you're going to go up there and you're going to be funny, and that's what you're hired to do, then you better do well at it. This seemed almost like a political speech. You could have said this guy was running for office at many points against Donald Trump, for that matter. It did not come across as humor. I'll put it this way. I love stand-up comedy. I don't mind being offended with some comic --
CABRERA: Who would you have put out there if you had the choice, Ben? Which comedian do you think could have done it?
FERGUSON: I mean there are a few people on "Saturday Night Live" right now that do a pretty good impression of Donald Trump. That's where I would have started on that list. I think even, you know, you look at it and you go to a comedian, here's what my role would have been last night. [17:45:02] Can you come up there and lighten the mood when we are an intense political debate coming out of an intense political presidential election that was really tough and can you actually make people laugh and be fun while doing it instead of mean- spirited. That should have been what they should have asked for and should have looked for last night.
And unfortunately, they went in a completely different direction. It was all right, Donald, you're not going to show up, we're going to pound you into the ground even harder. And if that was their mission -- and I think it was -- they accomplished it last night. But I don't think too many people are going out googling when is this guy coming to a town near me or am I going to buy a ticket to see him if he is close to me. I don't see that happening.
CABRERA: Ben Ferguson and Dean Obeidallah, got to leave it there. Thank you both for the discussion.
Coming up, she came from humble beginnings. Now she's making her mark as an actor and producer. Up next, Taraji P. Henson opens up about achieving success in Hollywood. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."
[17:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) CABRERA: In this week's "American Opportunity," you have seen her on the hit show "Empire" and the Oscar nominated "Hidden Figures." Taraji P. Henson is one of Hollywood's hottest stars but comes from humble beginnings. Her advice to those from similar background, find your voice and keep fighting. She opens up to CNN's Tanzina Vega about that and diversity in Hollywood.
TANZINA VEGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In "Hidden Figures" to "Moonlight" to "13th" (ph), black arts and black filmmakers are having a moment right now. Tell me about where your place is in this moment as an actress as a black woman.
TARAJI P. HENSON, ACTOR: Hopefully it's not just a fleeting moment. Hopefully this is an all inclusive movement that we see that continues to grow. Hopefully Hollywood is starting to become hungry about more unheard of stories. Certainly that's my position. I'm a producer now so a lot of that is on my back. Now it's what am I going to do to change or to keep this change, this beautiful change that we see current and keep it continuing. You know, that's my place and that's what I'm here to do.
VEGA: And there's been a lot of conversation obviously about how white Hollywood is and Oscar is so white. And so there's a lot of conversation to about how inclusive we need to be. Do you think we need to build our own table or try to keep having a seat at the main Hollywood table?
HENSON: I mean its good when you are invited and because it's great. It's always good when you get nominated for something. That's your peers saying, hey, you did a good job. We recognize your work. But if I'm not recognized or if I'm not invited to have a seat at that particular table, does that take away from me as an artist? It does not.
So that's how I move with it because if you set yourself up to go for the gold, you might get your feelings hurt, you know. So I go for people's hearts. I go for the masses. I'm more interested in how many lives can I change with this gift God gave me. So, if that happens to bring along an award or trophy, thank you. But that's not why I do what I do.
VEGA: I'm from the hood. Your background is also low income and yet inequality, economic inequality still exists. It's one of the biggest issues that we're facing today. What do you say to somebody who is not in such a position like we are?
HENSON: You just have to keep fighting. You just have to know that you have a voice and that it's needed. You know, I'm still fighting to get paid what I deserve. But once you prove you're bankable, now you got to pay me. Hard work pays off.
You can't sit on the sofa and pray for the turkey. The turkey is not going to come up to the door and say, hey, shoot me and put me on the table. You pray for God to give you -- put you in a position to get a turkey. I mean you go out there and you work for that turkey and that's how you have a thanksgiving dinner.
CABRERA: Cool lady. Coming up, Jeanne Moos with the international battle over who is the best Trump impersonator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, just the other day, I was having dinner with president of China, President X-I, president eleven.
[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: Finally this hour, Jeanne Moos on the art of impersonating President Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Gentlemen and lady, start your impersonations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look extra orange.
MOOS: Eleven Trump imitators competed at the Los Angeles comedy club, The Laugh Factory.
GLEN GRIFFIN, TRUMP IMPERSONATOR: And I want to ensure everyone here I have no Russian ties. They're all made in China.
MOOS: Riffing on the president's words --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The media has been so unfair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Believe me.
MOOS: Aping his gestures, clapping, pointing, pouting, even breathing like him. Among the judges, former SNL star Daryl Hammond.
DARYL HAMMOND, COMEDIAN: Love thy neighbor as thyself and like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
MOOS: Hammond noted that instead of laughing, President Trump does --
HAMMOND: -- the sort of reverse meow laugh like a --
MOOS: Most of the jokes were in the groaner (ph) category.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very reluctant to drop the bomb on Syria. After all, she's been such a tremendous help on my iPhone.
MOOS: It's the delivery that counts.
JOHN DI DOMENICO, TRUMP IMPERSONATOR: And I love signing, tweeting and saluting. No one salutes better than me. Nobody.
MOOS: The impersonators tend to break Trump down into body parts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a lot of it is the squint and the lips. Those are the two big tease.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he does a weird kind of side eye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the good thing is everything is within the same lexicon, you know. Everything is tremendous, fantastic, incredible or a total disaster, lightweight, loser.
MOOS: John Di Domenico is no loser. He won with his jokes about replacing Obamacare
DI DOMENICO: And it is going to be Trump first aid kits.
MOOS: One impersonator not in the contest was Anthony Atamanuik.
ANTHONY ATAMANUIK, COMEDIAN: And then bring in the arms. This is the kid (ph), the arms.
MOOS: His fake Trump now host an entire show on Comedy Central. For impersonators, it's not the wig, it's what's under it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the way he stops and thinks like he's going to come up with something, you know, and then all of a sudden he says, terrific.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrific, terrific, tremendous.
MOOS: New York.
[18:00:00] CABRERA: You're in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for spending your Sunday with us. Now, for 100 jam- packed days, President Trump heads on to a busy week looking for a victory.