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NYT: Mueller Probe Widens To Look At Mid-East Influence In White House; Florida Lawmakers Consider Gun Restrictions, Arming Teachers; Ryan Seacrest On Red Carpet Despite Harassment Claims; Trade War Looms as White House Wrestles With Low Morale and Chaos; Interview with Max Baucus; Mueller Probe Widens to Look at Mideast Influence in White House. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 4, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: After the announcement the presidential term limits would be abolished, people shared pictures of Pooh with captions like, "Find the thing you love and stick with it." Only to find the first taken down or blocked according to censorship watchdog China Digital Times. The censorship was just one more reason Chinese supporters of democratization were left feeling like Eeyore this week.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, the looming trade tariffs.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Are there going to be any exemptions for these tariffs?

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: They should be across-the- board with no country exemptions.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: The trade issue is a very important issue. Frankly, what the president ought to do working with the Congress and outside groups, we ought to modernize the way in which we determine whether the trade agreements are being violated.

WHITFIELD: Plus, turbulence in the White House.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The drama is there, but that is how the president makes decisions, and that process while different has gotten to good results.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: The problem is the president has been ill served in my view by staff.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Can help you on the personnel front. John Kelly to me has created order out of chaos initially. He's kind of backsliding now, but I think John Kelly is the right guy to continue to help the president. WHITFIELD: CNN NEWSROOM starts now.


WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

After a chaotic week in the West Wing, the White House looks to push reset with plans to tackle some big controversial issues. This week the president is set to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum. The move, which has already drawn swift criticism from lawmakers in his own party and America's closest allies, may further fuel concerns of a trade war and rattle global markets.


NAVARRO: This is an action basically to protect our national security and our economic security. The president was quite clear. We can't have a country that can defend itself and prosper without an aluminum and steel industry.


WHITFIELD: And tomorrow also marks the president's self-imposed deadline for the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to end. Their future remains in limbo. Federal courts have ordered the administration to keep DACA going until the courts weigh legal challenges.

Also, up in the air, the staffing in the West Wing with some top aides announcing their departures. Trump joked about it last night at a white tie annual event saying, "I like chaos.' And former chief of staff Reince Priebus agreed with that this morning.


PRIEBUS: The decisions and the things that President Trump has done have put him on a great course. If you're a Republican, you couldn't be happier. So the drama is there, but that is how the president makes decisions and that process, while different, has gotten to good results.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

So, Boris, the president seems very determined to impose the new tariffs for example despite the push back from some of this country's biggest allies.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And not just from international allies, Fred, but allies within his own party, with senators like Lindsey Graham Ben Sasse saying that these tariffs would be a bad idea. Republicans obviously not known for any policies that would interfere with free and open trade. Despite that, this is something that the president has long believed,

one of his few ideological stances that has lasted for almost as long as he's been in public life, the idea that the United States is taken advantage of when it comes to trade. And he's not against enacting tariffs, even if it strains some of our relationships with allies like Canada, South Korea and the U.K.

You had the director of Trade and Industrial Policy on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper this morning, Peter Navarro, not only defending the president, but saying something that those allies likely won't like to hear. Listen.


TAPPER: So there's going to be no exemptions? That's what it's going to look like at the end?

NAVARRO: There will be an exemption and country exclusions, so there'll be an exemption procedure for particular cases where we need to have exemptions so that business can move forward, but at this point in time, there will be no country exclusions.


SANCHEZ: No exclusions, and we've already heard from the prime minister of the U.K., Teresa May. She apparently had a phone call with President Trump this weekend telling him that she was deeply concerned about these tariffs and potential consequences as a result of them.

Peter Navarro told Jake Tapper this morning that we could see these tariffs enacted before the end of the week -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Meantime, there's also speculations swirling about some of the president's closest advisers, family, I'm talking about daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner in terms of being potentially the next ones to head to the exit door at the White House. What are you hearing?

[14:05:07] SANCHEZ: That's right, Fred. That actually stems from some reporting in the "New York Times" this week, that apparently President Trump has approached his chief of staff John Kelly for help to distance his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner from the White House. Both of them the subject of intense scrutiny over their business dealings, multiple investigations. And of course with Jared Kushner getting his security clearance downgraded, that has left the questions about the effectiveness that he has in his role as a senior adviser to the president.

Of course President Trump not really taking that too seriously over the weekend, as you noted, at the Gridiron Dinner, joking with journalists, actually saying at one point, quote, "So many people have been leaving the White House. It's actually been really exciting and invigorating because you want new thought. So I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Now the question everyone keeps asking, who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?"

That joke apparently drawing quite a few laughs. Fred, the president not taking all that seriously reports of alleged affairs with Stormy Daniels and others. And the tensions that that may have brought about in his marriage with the first lady -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you so much.

All right. Let's discuss this now with our panel, joining me now is David Drucker, CNN political analyst and a senior correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," and Gabriel Debenedetti, national political reporter for Politico.

So, David, you first. Let's talk about these tariffs off the bat. The president's plan to impose these new tariffs on steel and aluminum, despite opposition from this country's allies, even his advisers within the White House. The president is pretty serious about this. He is stoking this idea. Why is it that some believe they can change his mind this week?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have no idea. If there's anything the president has believed consistently for the past 30 or 40 years is that the U.S. has been taken to the cleaners by other countries because we've agreed to bad trade deals that benefit everybody else and don't benefit -- do not benefit the U.S. economy, American workers or American businesses.

So this is something that he campaigned on, it's something that he had believed for a long time, unlike all of these other topics where he's bounced around and seems to hold different positions at different times.

The other -- by the way, Fredricka, the other key measure of opposition he's getting are from Republicans on Capitol Hill who are worried that this is going to hurt the economy that has been making a bit of a comeback, in part they believe because of the tax bill that they passed, and they are worried that this is going to complicate their message heading into the midterm elections, that because of their tax bill there is greater employment, greater growth, there are wage increases. And that if the -- we really do get embroiled in a trade war, it could have some negative impacts on the economy, they believe, and that could muddle everything.

WHITFIELD: Is there a feeling that they can be influential on the president?

DRUCKER: Well, I think a lot of them are trying to figure out how serious the president is. They have been so numbed to this idea that the president raises his voice one day and then talk softly the next. But I think they were all trying to make sense of this last week when the president said we'll be doing this next week.

So I would think now after a couple of days of consistent messaging coming out of the White House on trade with Peter Navarro's interview on CNN earlier today that they're going to understand that this is for real and they're going to start to work on the president.

We've already seen from the state of Wisconsin, which the president values politically, the governor, Senator Ron Johnson and others warned the president to back away from tariffs because they believe it's going to hurt jobs and manufacturing in Wisconsin, in the Midwest.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Gabriel, we have received mixed messaging from the president before. He has backtracked on other positions such as immigration and even on gun control. Is there a feeling even though he sounds like he's delivering this with certainty that perhaps this is another of those issues where perhaps he'll have a change of heart?

GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, it's certainly like David said. Plenty of Republicans are hoping so, but the reality is that there are a number of issues currently on the table in front of the White House and in front of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill where everyone is trying to get the president to say how he really feels.

And it's not just this issue. There's also DACA as you said earlier and gun control. So there are a number of issues where you have a number of different coalitions on Capitol Hill trying to work with the president. And I think you have a lot of Republicans who do think there might be some room to try and pull him back on this one. But again this is an issue where he has been remarkably consistent unlike on other issues for years now.

So when you talk to people in and around the White House even those who disagreed vehemently with this announcement that the president made, a lot of them are sort of saying at this point, this one is a done deal, guys. You might want to try work on him on some of the other issues.

[14:10:02] WHITFIELD: All right. This past week was particularly chaotic in the views of so many for the White House. But today former governor Chris Christie came to the president's offense and shifted a lot of the blame, in fact, on his staff. Listen.


CHRISTIE: The problem is the president has been ill served in my view by staff over the period of the last 15 months where they create a lot of the distractions through their infighting, their leaking.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, David, is there much staff left to blame?

DRUCKER: Look -- well, there's plenty of staff to blame if you want to blame them. I think this is an excuse and it's blame shifting. Everything starts at the top. Whether you're looking at a White House, whether you're looking at a congressional office, whether you're looking at the governor. There are mistakes from time to time. There is infighting and people with their own agenda from time to time.

But a White House tends to run the way the principal wants it to run. The principal sets the tone, the principal sets the example. The chaos is coming from the way Trump runs things and the way he has always done things. And in some ways, although remarkably the president is a little bit further along than he was a year ago. In many respects he's still running this White House the same way he ran his closely held family business where it's really about brand management and not team management and governing.

And I think that's what gets the president into these situations to the extent that it bothers him. But I think as the president, even if he meant it in a joking sense and sat at the Gridiron Dinner, he likes the chaos. He's most comfortable in this kind of environment. You can blame staff, but it's their fault.

WHITFIELD: And so, Gabriel, you know, as for, you know, General Kelly, chief of staff, is it time to kind of reassess how influential he has been? How much more influential he can be whether he is successful in it by any means by bringing some order to what has been -- would have been a number of chaotic weeks?

DEBENEDETTI: I think that you've recently seen an acknowledgment from a lot of White House allies that the public narrative around General Kelly really has shifted in the last few weeks because when he did come in, he was pitched as this moderating, order-driven presence but, you know, within the White House a lot of folks never really believed that to be true. Certainly Republicans on Capitol Hill have from weeks if not months now said that was all a public creation. So yes, there is a lot of question here.

When you see someone like Governor Christie go out and say something like he did this morning, let's not forget that he and a number of other prominent Republicans have made no secret about the fact that they would be willing to swoop in themselves and try and impose their version of order. But again, as we've said over and over again, this really does stem from the Oval Office itself. You can have as many people around it as possible to try and soften some of the edges, but at the end of the day, if the president is going to wake up and say, let's impose some tariffs, that's going to happen.

WHITFIELD: Yes. At the same time, a little unusual to hear the chief of staff talk about, you know, this is like a punishment.


WHITFIELD: You know? By serving as now -- the now chief of staff.

All right, David Drucker, Gabriel Debenedetti, thank you so much.


DRUCKER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Up next, we're following breaking developments out of North Korea now. The rogue nation says the U.S. should not misjudge its intention for dialogue, labeling the administration's current approach as, quoting now, "more than ridiculous," end quote.

Plus a new report reveals Robert Mueller's investigation is entering new territory. Why the special counsel is digging into possible attempts by the United Arab Emirates to sway the 2016 election towards a Trump win.


[14:17:41] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Breaking news right now. North Korea is saying the U.S. should, quote, "not misjudge its intention for dialogue," end quote. A statement through the Foreign Ministry went on to accuse the U.S. of, and I'm quoting now, "taking preposterous action by continuing to trumpet an insistence that it will not have dialogue unless a right condition is met and that it will keep watching if we have intention to abandon nuclear weapons and missiles and so on," end quote.

The statement follows comments made by President Trump just last night at a dinner with media members where he said, quote, "They called up a couple of days ago and 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." That from the president last night.

So South Korea is sending a delegation, by the way, to North Korea on Monday, and those talks are expected to include conditions for a U.S. and North Korea dialogue.

Max Baucus is joining me right now. He is a former ambassador to China and a former Democratic U.S. senator from Montana.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So what do you think about these comments from North Korea saying it's preposterous to think that U.S. conditions must be met before there is any talk and that the president would say last night that North Korea actually called him and said they want to talk, but his demand is denuke, denuke. What all of that do you believe?

BAUCUS: Well, frankly, nothing much has changed. That is the position of the United States and has been for the last couple, three years. It's also the position of North Korea. It's been their position. I'm hopeful that South Korean and North Korean talks will help shed some light on how we proceed forward. In the meantime, regrettably, North Korea is building up its missile capacity, its nuke capacity, it's making us get to the point where they could be a nuclear power. We have to, frankly, find ways to backchannel, backdoor intermediaries, try to find some solutions here.

WHITFIELD: And is that backchannel method by way of facilitating South Korea, perhaps, in a different way?

BAUCUS: I think it is. Perhaps the Olympic Games is in some way a new development which might lead to some backchanneling. Keep talking to China, too. China is very upset with Kim Jong-un. [14:20:02] I talked to President Xi some years ago. I was struck with

how much he is upset with Kim Jong-un. I mean, they're not friends. We want China to do more. And China is not doing a lot, but keep China part of the solution there.

The solution to North Korea has to include China. China is a big part of the block. China is not going to be anything unless China is part of the solution.

WHITFIELD: And now that China's leadership has moved more toward authoritarianism, do you see that in any way influencing the region, especially as it comes down to North Korea?

BAUCUS: No, I don't. The big news here is that the West is beginning to understand, finally, that China is China. American exceptionalism might have worked a bit in the past, but it's not working with China. China is not going to be more like us. China is China. China is a separate country. And -- but we have to deal with China, negotiate with China with that understanding, and Xi Jinping is getting more power, it's more evidence that China is its own country. It's not going to necessarily and probably in most cases will not up the values of Western countries.

WHITFIELD: And on that issue, President Trump raised a few eyebrows when he made some remarks about China's President Xi Jinping's recent, you know, consolidation of power, saying --

BAUCUS: Right.

WHITFIELD: I'm quoting the president now. "He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great, and look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."

Was that just tongue in cheek, him being funny, or, you know, was he revealing a lot of what he would hope, that he would be able to leave in the same manner?

BAUCUS: Yes. Well -- there's a big pit in my stomach when I saw that because I think he kind of believes it. I think he kind of like to be authoritarian like Xi Jinping. And he, therefore, is projecting values that are very un-Western, very un-American. It's very regrettable.

WHITFIELD: What are your -- what are your hopes or perhaps your, you know, trepidations about this trade deal that the president wants to impose? You know, aluminum tariffs, steel tariffs.

BAUCUS: Right. Right.

WHITFIELD: It would be, you know, Korea, a leading provider of such. Canada, a leading provider of such. How do you see this potentially helping or hurting the U.S. economy?

BAUCUS: Well, we're on the cusp, we're on the precipice of a major negative economic spiral. If he proceeds -- President Trump proceeds, and following through with what he said he would do, and if other countries retaliate the way they say they will, not only Canada but also EU, we're in a very dangerous position.

It's my hope frankly that (INAUDIBLE) has prevailed, maybe some in the White House can kind of nudge him a little bit different direction. That's a lot better than a trade war.

China does not want to a trade war. They want to keep things going. It's also true, however, that China has not (INAUDIBLE). China has developed over capacity. They spent a lot of time subsidizing their steel mills or aluminum production to the detriment of not just the United States but other countries. Other countries have done the same, by the way.

The answer here, frankly, is to address over capacity. Countries need to work better together. And figure out ways how mutually we get back to capacity reduced. Because that's the main part of the problem. It's got to be dealt with collectively. This action by Trump to threaten tariffs is just not the answer.

WHITFIELD: Max Baucus, thank you so much for you time. Appreciate it.

BAUCUS: You bet. You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right. The Russia probe is not just about Russia these days. Why Robert Mueller is widening the investigation to include the United Arab Emirates. We'll explain after the break.


[14:28:22] WHITFIELD: Russia's attempts to infiltrate the 2016 election might not be the only focus for Robert Mueller. The "New York Times" is reporting that the special counsel is also looking into the United Arab Emirates and possible attempts to gain influence in the Trump White House. The "Times" report looks at how that influence may have shaped White House policy in the Middle East.

Joining me right now, CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice, Michael Zeldin.

All right. Michael, good to see you. So the "New York Times" report says that the scope of Mueller's probe appears to be going beyond Russia's influence and now the UAE. What does that tell you?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it says that Mueller is reading his mandate strictly, which is to say it says conduct a counter-intelligence investigation with respect to Russian involvement in the campaign and, and that's the key word, the conjunction and, and any matters that may have arisen or might arise from it.

So the story in the "New York Times" says that there is an investigative component now which is looking into whether or not the Emirates tried to buy influence by funneling money to the Trump campaign in 2016 and, in addition, whether they tried to affect policy after the election. So that's a serious matter. It implicates the mandate from a counter-

intelligence standpoint, and so Mueller is taking that seriously and moving forward.

WHITFIELD: And in fact, the "New York Times" is reporting that among the interviews, the Mueller team recently questioned a Lebanese American businessman who also was an adviser to the de facto ruler in the UAE, and this adviser reportedly even had talks with Jared Kushner, the adviser in the White House, and Steve Bannon, White House strategist, at the White House so what do these interactions mean potentially? Are these big, you know, flags to be raised? Customarily a White House will welcome representatives from other nations. Why would this be different?


ZELDIN: Well, if this Lebanese-American is attending or if it is his Republican donor who has been conversing with him, is attending a White House meeting and he's there as a lobbyist and he's saying to the president, you know, I have an opinion and I would like to express it, there is nothing wrong with that at all.

If, however, this is some relationship for a prior donation or a future donation where there is some notion that there is a give and take, a quid pro quo type of thing, then it implicates ethical, and perhaps even legal, problems.

WHITFIELD: Why after so long, you know, Michael, the Mueller team has been so tight-lip tight-lipped. There are no leaks, no indicators from the Mueller team which direction they're going. But then just recently, whether there's this, now the Mueller team looking at this UAE relationship or perhaps even further delving into Ivanka and Jared Kushner's business dealings. What's happening here that this information is now either leaking or getting out from the Mueller team in terms of directions they're going?

ZELDIN: I'm not sure, Fredricka, that it is actually coming out from the Mueller team. The Mueller spokesperson has not offered official comments on this. They've maintained their silence. It seems to me as possible that this is coming out from leaks within the White House or from the witnesses themselves.

This Lebanese-American, for example, or his lawyers who are trying to put a story forth to either advantage themselves or disadvantage one of their opponents. So, having worked for Mueller for a number of years, I would be actually very surprised if this was coming from his offices.

Just so much stuff going on. This past Wednesday, four or five things broke with respect to Jared Kushner and his financial dealings, Ivanka and her financial dealings, the security clearances of Jared Kushner. So, there is just so much going on, it's impossible, almost, to source all of it. It's dizzying in a way.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it really is. So, if it ends being the latter, you've described it. You know, the information is really coming from the people that were interviewed or even people within the White House. We're talking about the activity going on. How does the Mueller team seize on that kind of frenzy, you know, that's created from this kind of information being made public?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that Mueller is going to acquire his information through official sources. He's going to interview people or he's going to put him in the grand jury. He's going to subpoena documents. He's not going to really rely on the public domain for his official information gathering.

But when you look at all this and you're a prosecutor, you think, well, there are maybe people now more willing to talk to us. We spoke to them previously. They may want to come back in again or we haven't spoken to them, maybe we should reach out to them and see what they have to say.

So, it opens up an opportunity for communications, but Bob I think is going to work through the normal prosecutorial channels principally to acquire the evidence he needs to determine whether a crime was committed or not.

WHITFIELD: And the investigative team is also going to be examining, you know, behavior, responses to the investigations, et cetera. And just recently, President Trump has been, once again, you know, lashing out at his U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the one who recused himself from the Russia investigations. Listen to what former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said this morning in terms of trying to explain all this.


REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER TRUMP 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. He feels like that was 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.


WHITFIELD: Do sentiments like that keep reminding the Mueller team what is it that the White House, the president would want to hide? What is he so nervous about? Why would he want to continue to try to undermine his attorney general?

ZELDIN: Yes, it's a picture into the thinking of the president. We've talked about in the past, Fredricka, that for the statutory violation of obstruction of justice or for the analysis along abuse of power lines, you have to prove that the person who is obstructing or abusing power had a purposeful intent, a corrupt intend to do that.

So, the more that the president allows Mueller to have visibility in his thinking, I fired Comey because I had Russia on my mind, very bad from a legal standpoint for the president to have said that.

[14:35:04] Or I am furious at the attorney general for recusing himself because he should have protected me like Roy Cohen protected Richard Nixon or McCarthy or (inaudible) protected.

That's bad if you're the legal defense attorney because you're giving Mueller an opportunity to see that this guy is acting purposefully and not by a mistake. So, the more the president does this, actually the more he's helping Mueller.

The more Jeff Sessions digs his heels in and says, as long as I'm attorney general, we're going to follow the rule of law and the Constitution, he's actually protecting Donald Trump's legal interest way better than the president protecting his own legal interest.

WHITFIELD: So, this must be frustrating for his attorneys because I would imagine they have to be advising that or just refrain from comment as often as, you know, all the time, but he keeps doing his own thing, I guess.

ZELDIN: That's right. Ty Cobb is a very good lawyer. John Dowd is a very good lawyer. I am sure they are counseling the president as to how he should proceed with this investigation. Ty Cobb has repeatedly said they want to cooperate. They don't think there's anything there and that by cooperating being transparent. They'll get to the bottom of this thing more quickly, but the president doesn't seem to be heeding that advice and we'll see how that plays out.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael Zeldin, thanks so much.

ZELDIN: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right. We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, but first this week's staying well takes relaxation to a whole new level.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm getting a massage much like I was on a table. My body relaxes, and this is a blissful feeling. She's working my neck and my shoulders, and getting (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're floating on the surface of the water. It's cradling you. It's kind of like being weightless. It's like gravity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As I move the person through the water, my goal is to get them relaxed first and foremost. So, in order to do that, I might balance the entire system with acupressure. I'm providing pressure to relieve pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do have to have the water at a specific temperature, between 92 and 98 degrees. That facilitates the muscles relaxing and everything moves a lot better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've seen people who are not very agile on land and when they get into the water, they're able to move more freely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My pain is sometimes at a level of five coming into it, and when I walked out, I don't even feel it. That feeling would last for a couple of days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just puts me in a gentler, quieter place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could it get any better than this?




WHITFIELD: Florida lawmakers are working overtime this weekend as they feel pressure to improve school safety after the Parkland school massacre in Florida. The Florida Senate is now moving forward with the voluntary plan to arm teachers while lawmakers rejected an assault weapons ban.

CNN's Athena Jones joins us now from Florida's capital. So, Athena, what provisions are in the bill currently under consideration?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. They are working overtime, the Senate especially. There was a rare Saturday session yesterday where senators debated this measure for eight hours. Here is what is in the bill that they plan to vote on tomorrow. This bill would raise the age to purchase a weapon to 21 from 18. That's for all firearms.

It would require a three-day waiting period to buy a gun. It would ban the sale or possession of bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more like automatic weapons.

It would give law enforcement more power to seize weapons and ammunition from people deemed mentally unfit or otherwise a threat, and it would provide additional funding for armed school resource officers and for mental health services in schools across the state.

And of course, you have some Democrats who say that the gun control measures in this bill don't go far enough, and some Republicans who are argue, they go too far, but this is what they are planning on voting on tomorrow -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then tell us about this controversial so-called martial program that's on the table.

JONES: Right, that is no doubt the most controversial provision in this bill. This is a program that would allow teachers or other school personnel to carry weapons as long as they get proper training.

We're talking about 144 hours of training, which would include 12 hours of diversity training and the program would be entirely voluntary. The sheriffs, the county sheriff and the school district would have to agree to implement it, and no teachers would be required to take part in the program.

But it's gotten a lot of push back from students, from teachers, from parents, and not just from people associated with Parkland, we've also heard Florida Governor Rick Scott vocally oppose the idea of arming teachers.

What isn't clear, Fred, is whether the governor would veto a bill that includes such a provision. I've talked to folks on the House side. They are going to vote after the Senate votes, if they pass this bill.

They don't expect that provision to be removed because there is a lot of support from it from Republicans and Republicans, of course, control both chambers. But the bottom line here is that this is a controversial provision.

And they've got only a few days to work all of this out before the legislative session ends on Friday, March 9th, and so they are racing the clock to get a bill through both houses and to the governor's desk -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Up next, we are just hours from the biggest night in Hollywood, the Oscars. But will the industry's film achievements be the center of attention or will the "Me Too" movement dominate the night?



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. It's finally here, Hollywood's biggest night. The Oscars are closing out this year's award season tonight, and while the film industry's biggest stars will take center stage, the "Me Too" and "Time's Up" movement may steal some of that spotlight.

CNN's Chloe Melas joins me right now to discuss all of this. All eyes will be also on Ryan Seacrest, Chloe, who will be on the red carpet for the E! Network. He is defending himself against sexual harassment claims. You just got off the phone with the Seacrest camp, and what are they saying?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Look, Ryan Seacrest has dominated the headlines over the past few days leading up to the Oscars where he has always been a staple on red carpets during awards season. His camp, though, said he was busy last night working on the upcoming reboot of "American Idol" and that he's focusing on this Oscars like any other Oscars.

[14:50:04] He is prepared to answer any questions from celebrities who might take this as an opportunity to ask him point blank about these sexual harassment allegations that had been lodged against him like you said he's vehemently denied.

And his team also says that he feels frustrated. He feels like this was all put to rest. He wrote an essay for "The Hollywood Reporter" detailing all of this and defending himself, and then also E! launched an independent investigation and found him all clear of any wrongdoing.

Have I heard from some top celebrity publicists that some celebrities might skip talking to him on the carpet? Yes, I have, but he's prepared to take this in stride.

WHITFIELD: So, he will be still on the red carpet and the understanding is there will be some stars who will voluntarily go to talk with him.

MELAS: Exactly. And there are others who might ask him point blank, like Eva Longoria at the Golden Globes, asked him about this (inaudible) between Cat Stadler, who quit E! because she claimed that she wasn't getting paid as much as her co-host, Jason Kennedy. He handled that like a pro. So, you can only imagine he's had several days to think about this and he knows exactly what he's going to say if he's put on the spot.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, now let's talk about Oscars and the host of the show, Jimmy Kimmel, the host for the second year in a row. Over the past year, we have really seen him enter into the political fray, you know, on his late-night show. What are his intentions during tonight's show?

MELAS: Well, the big moment that everybody is waiting for is the opening monologue. Is he going to talk about Donald Trump? Is he going to talk about "Me Too" where he's gone back and forth in multiple interviews, Fred, about whether or not he is going to address the "Me Too" "Times Up" movement.

You've seen him on his show in the past year talk about gun reform and wanting stricter laws and give cheerful monologues. He's also talked about, you know, laws when it comes to medical issues when after his son, Billy, as an infant had to undergo open heart surgery just right shortly after his birth.

So, he's gone political on his show, but the producers of the Academy Awards have come out, Fred, and said, look, he's going to address current issues, but he's also not going to get overly political during the show because that's not what the Academy Awards is all about.

WHITFIELD: OK, Chloe Melas, thank you so much.

MELAS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, Mr. Magoo. Remember him? Well, it's made an unexpected return to pop culture this week and that's next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call him Mr. Magoo. Everyone loves it. People around here in the White House say, stop, I'm laughing so hard. I can't take it anymore, I resign.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, I'm not going anywhere. I'm like skunk stink on a bird dog, sir. I linger. And I just had dinner with all your friends at the Department of Justice, and wow, your name popped up more than a weasel in a pumpkin patch.


WHITFIELD: She is so good. "Saturday Night Live" spoofing the president's public shaming of Jeff Sessions along with Trump's reported secret nickname for his attorney general, Mr. Magoo. It's the focus of this week's "State of the Cartoonian."


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): After months of publicly complaining about Jeff Sessions.

CARTOON CHARACTER: We're very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell.

TAPPER: The president has reportedly privately given the attorney general a new nickname, Mr. Magoo.

CARTOON CHARACTER: That's terrible. It's just shocking.

TAPPER: That's, of course, a reference to the optically challenged cartoon character created in 1949 by subversive cartoonists satirizing the myopic conservatism of the McCarthy era.

CARTOON CHARACTER: By Jupiter, you're not on your toes. They'll stick you every time.

TAPPER: But we doubt that's what President Trump is referring to. He was probably trying to highlight Sessions' stubbornness. Like Magoo, he refuses to bow down to authority.

CARTOON CHARACTER: I demand complete satisfaction. Is that clear?

TAPPER: Or maybe it's Sessions' confidence.

CARTOON CHARACTER: I like a young man with ambition, confidence in his product.

TAPPER: Regardless of the reasons, envisioning Sessions as Mr. Magoo and the hijinks that ensue, it's probably really what the president was going for. Then again, Magoo is an extremely wealthy curmudgeon who never admits when he's wrong and somehow always ends up on top. Whom does that actually describe?

CARTOON CHARACTER: You never lost a fight yet.


WHITFIELD: All right. We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, and it all starts now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM, the looming trade tariffs.

TAPPER: Are there going to be any exemptions in these tariffs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should be across the board with no country exemptions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The trade issues are very important issue. Frankly, what the president ought to do, working with the Congress and outside groups, we ought to modernize the way in which we determine whether the trade agreements are being violated.

WHITFIELD: Plus, turbulence in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The drama is there, but that is how the president makes decisions and that process while different has gotten to good results.