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CNN NEWSROOM

Deadly Confrontation With Police Officer; News Conference on Tahoe Fire

Aired June 27, 2007 - 15:32   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We mentioned the California governor feeling the heat. Now we're told Arnold Schwarzenegger will be briefing the media on the Tahoe fires. We're expecting that to happen any minute now. Our Kara Finnstrom is there on the scene working details on the investigation to what led to that fire. The governor speaking soon. We'll take it live.
Now also near Lake Tahoe, the winds are picking up and firefighters worry that that will breathe new life into the blaze. It's already destroyed more than 175 homes. Many more homes are now in danger. CNN's Kara Finstrom standing by with the latest. She's in Meyers, California. Kara, what do you know?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, the big concern here is the wind. Right now it's calm out here and it's actually a beautiful afternoon. The smoke has risen, but firefighters are very concerned about what would happen later this afternoon when the winds pick up.

What we see behind me is the destruction that came from the first wave of the fire. And yesterday we got a taste of what could happen if the winds pick up again. We have some video that we took of what happened when we got very strong wind gusts late in the afternoon.

What essentially happened was some embers from the fire that firefighters believed they had contained just kind of flew out over that containment line and ignited in some very populated areas, forcing some mandatory evacuations. Most of that in South Lake Tahoe.

Now this afternoon we are under a red flag advisory and that means we could get wind gusts up to 30 miles per hour. So we are hearing from firefighters and from the Forest Service out here that they believe another 950 homes may be in harm's way if these conditions really do play out. So we will be out here throughout the afternoon, Kyra, waiting to see, you know, if these conditions do play out.

PHILLIPS: We'll follow it and take that live conference with the governor of California as soon as he steps up to the mike. Thanks, Kara.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Also expecting a press conference, too, from the Lower Colorado River Authority. They're going to hold a press conference in Austin, Texas to talk to us about that flooding that's been happening in Texas. It's been a big issue that happened overnight. So far according to the people we spoke to they don't have -- no deaths reported there, but you see them getting ready for that. So we'll bring that to you.

We also want to move on and we want to talk about people who are scrambling for higher ground anywhere they can find it. And a lot of those people in Texas. We're going to go back to that news conference now happening in Austin, Texas from the Lower Colorado River Authority and listen in.

JOE BEAL, LOWER COLORADO WATER AUTHORITY: ... gets provided to the public so that they can protect themselves during a flood event like this. From the risk associated with flash flooding and low water crossings to how quickly the area rivers can rise with an event like this is something that is very, important to get out to the public. And so I thank you very much for the coverage that you have given this. You've done a lot of great work. And you probably saved some lives because of that.

We've had a tremendous almost unprecedented rainfall event that occurred in the wee hours of this morning. Up in the Highland Lakes area. Our rainfall gauges indicate that we have had totals in some -- in one area at least that exceeded 19 inches of rain. To put that in perspective, this is a yard stick. What you see in blue here is 19 inches. And so that's the amount of rain that fell up in the highland lakes area. And some of the areas. Over about a three to four-hour period. That's a tremendous amount of rain that the system had to absorb. Nineteen inches.

A lot of people think that these lakes are constant level lakes, particularly the takes other than Buckhannon and Travis. People are used to Buckhannon and Travis going up and down, but they're not really used to Lake LBJ and Inks Lake and Lake Marble Falls going up and down.

When a rainfall event like this happens, then those -- all of those Highland Lakes will change in elevation and they will go up and they will go down. There's no such thing as a constant level lake. Within this Highland Lake area. Nature simply will not let us operate them that way.

This is going to be an ongoing flood event. It's not going to be over today. We know the amount of water that we are dealing with today. We have it in the system. We have made projections. In a moment I'm going to advise you of where we think the -- the area lakes are going to get to. In elevation.

But it's going to take days, if not weeks, for us to finally let this water drain out of the lakes. So it's not going to be over today. This is something that's going to go on for quite some time.

LCRA has a variety of ways for people to get information and to keep up to speed with -- with what's happening. We are frequently updating our recorded lake and river information. So we are giving information as close to real time as we possibly can. I know that a lot of people know about our Web site. I can tell that from the hits that the Web site took this morning once people realized that a flood event was happening. That website address is lcra.org. You can get there pretty simply. We also have a flood hotline that is manned by LCRA executives that have real time information that can provide that information directly to anyone that is concerned. Simply by calling our main number. 473-3200 in Austin.

LEMON: All right. That's Joe Beal. He the general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority there, holding a press conference in Texas, talking about just all that rain that they got overnight. Look at that. Live pictures now. That is some water flowing there.

He said some areas got more than 19 inches of rain. Actually that's tape. Nineteen inches of rain fell in a very short amount of time. That would just about flood anything. Also earlier I spoke with the mayor of Marble Falls, Texas. His name is Raymond Whitman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR RAYMOND WHITMAN, MARBLE FALLS, TX (voice-over): At this point, we -- there are no known fatalities. We do not even have any injuries at this point. However, we do have a large number of vehicles that we are finding in the creeks and we are trying to match up owners to those vehicles to make sure that if there are any missing persons, we know about it.

LEMON: Are you -- is your community prone to flooding? Have you ever had flooding this bad?

WHITMAN: Not that I can remember. Of course, we live on a major river and we have several large creeks, so, you know, flooding is always an issue. I don't remember having 19 1/2 inches in less than eight hours.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Yeah, 19 1/2 inches in less than eight hours. Bonnie Schneider, I want to check in with Bonnie Schneider. She is our meteorologist here.

I'm just looking at the rainfall totals that you guys sent out and your producers sent out. Marble Falls looks like it got, man, 17 inches of rain there.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: : Yeah. In the east- northeast sections of that area, 19.5 inches, John.

LEMON: Nine inches in some places. Seven inches. I mean, that's a lot of rain to fall in that amount of time.

SCHNEIDER: It's a lot of rain for any area to handle. But you have to remember looking back at Texas and Oklahoma as well, we've seen this pattern week after week where we've gotten some substantial rain in the area. The ground becomes saturated and it just can't hold any more water. So what happens is it keeps raining across the area and we do get the flooding. Even right now when it stops raining, we still have the risk for flooding because the water sort of settles into where it is right now and over the lakes, streams, and rivers in the area as we heard from the officials that there's a few of them in that region of Austin.

Now looking at the flooded areas right now, at least the rain has stopped for now. The problem is we have more rain in the forecast. We have flash flood watches and warnings still posted around the region, and not just for Texas. What's happening is the storm is likely to extend further to the north. We're seeing real time lightning further to the east of the system, but them the warnings continue.

But then the warnings continue and even toward the Dallas-Ft. Worth area further to the north of Austin, we're still running the risk of flooding because heavy rain is expected. Now this system brought about three to four inches of rain for Dallas and Ft. Worth and further to the north but we're expecting even more rain on top of this. We could see up to ten inches in some areas.

Our other big story is the fire weather in California. What we're looking at for today are the wind gusts to pick up quite a bit this afternoon, you'll see them gust up to 30 miles an hour. Right now they're fairly calm out of the southwest. So light in nature. Temperatures right now at 67 degrees, heating up on the high side to 88 degrees. On the low side to 78.

But the wind gusts are going to be concerning not just for today but tomorrow as well. We are looking for those wind gusts to pick up to 35 miles per hour in forecast for Thursday. So unfortunately, we're looking at wet weather where we don't need it and dry weather where we don't need it either.

I just want to mention about air quality. Right now because the winds are so light, the air quality is especially poor in this region and all the way around Reno and down through where the fires are because of the smoke and ash that is in the air.

Once the wind speeds pick up the air quality will improve today and tomorrow so obviously this is going to be a bad thing for the firefighters because the last thing they want are wind gusts as strong as 35 miles per hour. So a lot happening across the country, Don, in terms of floods and fires.

LEMON: Bonnie, just real quick getting back to the floods, they have so much water already and they're expecting more rain. So likelihood it could be a repeat?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's absolutely true. And looking at our computer models, this front is stationary. It's not moving anywhere so we've got the gulf moisture coming in and we are looking at substantial rainfall totals on top of what we have already and, yes, that does mean quite a bit more. In fact, some areas we have in the forecast up to 10 inches north of Oklahoma City, south of Tulsa and the area that saw the heavy rain is likely to see three to five more inches, maybe even up to eight inches in localized areas. It will be difficult to say where we'll see the heaviest rain. It depends where the bands go, but keep in mind the flood watches continue straight through tomorrow.

LEMON: Oh, man. All right, Bonnie, thank you for that.

Our I-Reporters are sending us some amazing video, the flood video. Like this one, Crabapple, Texas. Can you believe -- this was a creek. Looks more like a raging river there. This is from Kenneth Shilkun. He's a rancher who says the creek from -- he can see it from his back yard. He says it's usually that waist level, but now he thinks it's about a good 20 feet.

PHILLIPS: Short-range missiles with a long-range impact U.S. officials confirmed that North Korea has test fired more missile and say they're deeply troubled by it. For the latest on the new developments, let's get straight to Jamie McIntyre.

Hi, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Kyra.

Every time North Korea appears to be more accommodating, it then turns around and does something that the U.S. claims is provocative. In this case it's firing off three short-range missiles. And again, these are not considered a threat to anyone. In fact, a Pentagon official says it's believed that they actually fell in North Korean territorial waters.

Nevertheless, it's a provocative act right at the time the U.S. is -- was hoping to welcome a breakthrough with North Korea. The U.S. has unfrozen some $25 million in North Korean money and that has broken the log jam over a deal that would shut down North Korea's Yongbyang (ph) nuclear facility, part of the six party talks aimed at getting North Korea away from its nuclear ambitions. Those six parties of course the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia those parties. But again, the U.S. saying that this is an unwelcome provocation right at the time when they're engaging in talks and thought there might have been a breakthrough with North Korea.

And again, the U.S. is urging North Korea to restrain from these kinds of actions, which it says violates UN resolutions.

PHILLIPS: All right. Jamie McIntyre, thank you.

LEMON: An Arizona sheriff says it's one of the most vicious crimes he's ever seen. Two teenage boys have been arrested in what's being described as a very brutal slaying of a 17-year-old girl. The burned body of Amber Leanne Hess was found in the desert on Monday. Authorities say she was beaten, stabbed and choked to death at her home in Queen Creek, Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF CHRIS VASQUEZ, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA: Just based on interviews and things that we've learned throughout the investigation, we believe that it was premeditated.

QUESTION: Why did they want to attack her?

VASQUEZ: Everything that we -- that we've got indicates simply because they didn't like her very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: What has gotten into people lately? The sheriff says it's likely the suspects will be charged with first degree murder as adults.

Police chase a hard-charging suspect on foot. You've got to see the ending of this to believe it. We'll show you right here on the CNN NEWSROOM.

LEMON: And this one. A boy shot dead over a rock-throwing incident. An angry neighbor behind bars. The story is ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: And we're waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak on the Lake Tahoe fires. He's just had a tour of the damaged area. Live coverage as soon as he speaks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: There's quite a stunning end to a police chase in Denver, Colorado. A bank robbery suspect fleeing police in a stolen car, he takes off on foot and you can see the officers in hot pursuit there. He catches up but he can't hold on. Did you see that? Then an unmarked police car hits both of them. The suspect was thrown several feet. The officer went up on the hood as you saw there. Denver police say both are expected to be OK, though.

PHILLIPS: In Arkansas, a nine-year-old boy is gunned down and a fed up homeowner is under arrest. Police say the 50-year-old Jonathan Watts will appear in court today in El Dorado, Arkansas. He allegedly opened fire, hitting Dematrick Moore (ph) in the neck. A neighbor says it happened just after three older boys threw a brick at Watts' house and took off. Police report that previous problems had taken place at that house.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. DAVID SMITH, EL DORADO POLICE: During the course of our investigation we found that there had been rock-throwing at the residence from some of the juveniles in the area. And that the man had responded. This time he didn't use a BB gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Police say when Watts was arrested, he told officers, quote, "I've had it with these kids and the rock-throwing." He also told them he had thrown the shotgun away.

Tragic ending to a search off the Oregon coast. The body of a fighter pilot has been found about 40 miles off Cannon Beach. Major Gregory Young's F-15 crashed yesterday during a training exercise. He was from the 142nd Fighter Wing of Oregon's Air National Guard. He was 34 years old.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. STEVEN GREGG, 142ND FIGHTER WING: My heart-felt condolences go out to Major Young's family for their tragic loss. He was one of our finest. A talented young man with years of dedication to service to our country and defending our freedoms. The 142nd Fighter Wing and the Oregon Air National Guard will deeply miss him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: No word on the cause of the crash. An investigation is now under way.

LEMON: President Bush removed his shoes to take a step toward better relations with the Islamic world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained relations with many Muslim countries. The president visited a Washington mosque today and announced plans for a new diplomatic initiative. He says he'll appoint an envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a coalition of more than 50 Islamic governments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Today I'm announcing a new initiative. That will improve mutual understanding and cooperation between America and people in predominantly Muslim countries. I will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It's the first time a president has made such an appointment to the OIC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Mr. Bush's visit comes on Washington's Islamic Center's 50th anniversary.

PHILLIPS: The Washington dispute over eavesdropping without a warrant could be heading for a legal showdown. A Senate committee has subpoenaed the White House, the vice president's office, and two other government agencies. The subpoenas demand documents related to the legal authorization for the program.

It's not clear if the White House will comply with those subpoenas. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says that, quote, "We're aware of the committee's action and will respond appropriately. It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."

President Bush authorized a surveillance program in the aftermath of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks. The program allows the government to eavesdrop on the international communications of people suspected of having ties to terrorists. Now, we are anticipating a live news conference from Senators Leahy and Schumer. When those gentlemen speak, we'll bring it to you live.

LEMON: Well, it was Larry King's "Magical Mystery Tour."

Larry in Las Vegas to meet the Beatles. Get back with us. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

LEMON: Do you hear that, Kyra? All you need is love. Love is all you need. It's been a year of love. Last night marked the first anniversary of "Love" as a Las Vegas show combining Beatles music and Cirque du Soleil theatrics.

Before the show our Larry King sat down with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr along with Beatle widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.

They touched on the death of John Lennon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Where were you when John passed?

PAUL MCCARTNEY, MUSICIAN: When John passed I was in Sussex in my home in Sussex. That's where I was.

KING: Somebody call you?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah. My manager at the time called me. And it was just the shock of all shocks. You know.

RINGO STARR, MUSICIAN: I was in the Bahamas. And the kids called me and they said, we've heard something like John has been hurt. I was like, what? And then we got a call that John had actually been seriously hurt. And we just got a plane to New York. Said hello to Yoko. You know, you don't know what to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Ringo Starr is so laid-back. He's chilling like a villain.

PHILLIPS: He's still got it. He just loves life.

LEMON: Yes.

PHILLIPS: And his six earrings on his left ear.

LEMON: Guess what Larry is talking about tonight?

PHILLIPS: Paris.

LEMON: Paris. We'll still have Paris Hilton we're talking about. He talks to Larry King in her first TV interview since being released from jail tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

PHILLIPS: All right. We've been telling you about the eavesdropping program and the fact that the White House and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney's office have been issued subpoenas for involvement on that program and the legality of it. We're going to listen to Senator Leahy right now who is on the panel investigating that program.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VT: ... Justice to the White House seeking information documents about legal justification. We've gotten no responses. There's been a consistent pattern of evasion and misdirection.

In some ways it would have been better if they just ignored it. Instead, they've evaded and they've tried misdirection. It's -- it's unacceptable. It's stonewalling of the worst kind. And I think the reaction is now spreading to both parties in the Senate.

You may recall last week when I signed authorization for these subpoenas, the vote in the committee was 13-3. It was not a party line vote. A number of Republicans did not want to vote. A number of those who did vote voted for the subpoenas. We know from press reports that the vice president and his counsel David Addington (ph) played a central role in the development and justification of this program. We know former deputy attorney general James Comy (ph) as we saw in Senator Schumer's hearing testified that Vice President Cheney and David Addington were present during discussions about the Justice Department's legal concerns.

So the four subpoenas we've served are these. One on the White House office, one in the vice president's office, one in the National Security Council, and one to the Department of Justice.

They seem to think that if you ask questions in Congress, you should not have answers. Or that you should have evasions. That's not the way I feel. I've been here with six different presidents. I've expected all of them, Republicans and Democratic alike, to answer questions. And they will.

One of the things very interesting as you've heard Senator Durbin speak about this, the Department of Justice's Office Professional Responsibility was blocked. The first time in history was blocked in their efforts to find out who allowed what turned out to be illegal operations. So we've ...

PHILLIPS: The bottom line of this investigation, is it legal to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists or not? We're talking about the president's warrant-free wiretapping program. We've just learned today -- You're listening to Patrick Leahy. He's the committee chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office for documents related to the warrant-free eavesdropping program.

They have been investigating to -- or to squabbles within the White House on whether or not this program has been operating legally or not. Now documents coming from the vice president's office. The White House also named in the subpoenas. The Justice Department and the National Security Council. So we'll follow the investigation, the documents. and what it means over the legality of that program.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

LEMON: We're also awaiting another live event that's happening. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to talk -- come to the podium and talk about the Lake Tahoe wildfire, the fire that's happened there. He has just toured the damaged area. Of course you know it's burned more than 3,100 acres. So he's just looked at that.

As soon as he steps to the podium, if it happens in this newscast, we'll bring it to you.

Also ahead, a New Hampshire traffic stop turns deadly, but it's not the first time this motorist and cop have squared off.

Details of their violent history straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, you've seen the tape, a New Hampshire man's deadly confrontation with a police officer. But this wasn't the first time they clashed -- it's disturbing to see that. It's the first time their run-in was caught on dash cam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a dirt lot off a country highway, a four-year feud between New Hampshire police officer, Bruce McKay, and motorist Liko Kenney ends in about six seconds.

A dose of pepper spray, then at least seven shots fired from a .45 caliber handgun. All captured on Officer McKay's dash camera. This deadly encounter, last month, in Franconia, New Hampshire started about a mile and have down the road with a traffic stop for speeding. Kenney takes off, is pursued and then cornered and pushed back by Officer McKay who doesn't seem aware his life is in danger.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: He probably thought that, OK, I'll handle it this way, I know kid.

LOTHIAN: Mike Brooks is a CNN law enforcement analyst.

BROOKS: Oh, my initial thought, when I saw the officer walk up and spray inside the car, the turn his back and walk away, I was going, wait a minute. When you think about officer's safety and survival, that's not the way you go about approaching a car.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Off camera, Officer McKay is hit five times. Then Kenney and his passenger drive off and according to a witness, they run over the officer twice. He dies a short time later.

(voice-over): This disturbing and dramatic story then takes another deadly turn. A witness, ex-Marine, ex-felon, Gregory Floyd who is seen driving up to the scene, decides to intervene. As he later tells authorities in a police interview, he uses the officer's gun to shoot and kill Kenney, when the suspect refuses to put down his weapon.

GREGORY FLOYD, WITNESS: I shot one -- I know I shot one. But it could have been twice.

LOTHIAN: The feud between McKay and Kenney began in 2003, during another traffic stop caught on camera.

LIKO KENNEY, KILLED POLICE OFFICER: Do I have to give you my driver's license?

BRUCE MCKAY NEW HAMPSHIRE OFFICER, KILLED: Either that or you can be arrested for failure to identify yourself.

KENNEY: Why do I have to identify myself? Don't shine your flashlight in my eyes, please.

LOTHIAN: The confrontation escalates as other officers arrive.

KENNEY: Look, stop touching me, please. Stop touching me! Stop touching me!

Let go of me! Let go of me! My neck! I just broke my neck! (INAUDIBLE) let go of me!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop resisting.

LOTHIAN: Some people in this small resort ski town had been aware of the bad blood between Officer McKay and Kenney, who happens to be a cousin of Olympic skier Bode Miller.

CONNIE MCKENZIE, NEW HAMPSHIRE RESIDENT: I just feel the whole thing was -- should have -- could have -- it was unfortunate and it could have been avoided.

LOTHIAN: Floyd will not be charged for shooting Kenney. The state attorney general says his deadly force was justified.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Well, they're not setting deadlines or threatening funding, but another Republican senator has broken ranks with the Bush administration over Iraq. The second Republican senator in two days. Ohio's George Voinovich says that the U.S. should start planning now for what he calls a responsible military disengagement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: We're running out of time. And I don't think it's fair to -- to the next administration to say, hey, by the way, we're leaving this baby for you guys to figure out. And I don't think the American people are going to put up with it.

I think everybody knows that we fumbled the ball right from the beginning on this. And -- and I think that one way that they can make up for it is to say we're going to do this disengagement in a comprehensive way, involve the world community, make sure that that area is stabilized and that we don't end up with chaos and a civil war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Earlier, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana said the current troop build-up isn't get results. He and Voinovich still oppose attempts by some Democrats to set a firm pullout timeline.

Support for the war in Iraq has never been lower. So says the newest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll. Only 30 percent of Americans say they favor the war, 67 percent say they're opposed. Support for the war has plummeted from 72 percent in March 2003, to 47 percent in 2005, to 30 percent now. Now for the first time, a majority, 54 percent, say the war is not morally justified, 42 percent say it is.

Do they lean to the left or lean to the right? A new poll tracks the facts about young voters in America, and one party could stand to make some gains.

LEMON: And we're waiting for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak at the podium at Lake Tahoe about those fires. He just had a tour of the damaged area there.

Pictures of -- I don't know if that's the governor arriving. But he just had -- he just toured the damaged area, I would imagine, by helicopter. They're suffering some really massive losses there in California.

Live coverage when he speaks straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, tongues are wagging, fingers are pointing, and that's just in the Senate. Lawmakers are debating a number of amendments to the compromised immigration bill. Senators hope to silence critics who call the plan amnesty. But a short while ago they killed a Republican proposal to require all adults and legal immigrants to return home temporarily to qualify for legal status. And they defeated a Democratic plan to restrict legal status to those who have been in the U.S. for four years.

The plan faces steep challenges from conservatives and liberals. A critical test vote on the migration bill is set for tomorrow.

PHILLIPS: Well, El Cenizo Texas, a speck on the map on the banks of the Rio Grande. Depending on where you stand in the immigration debate, the shining city on a hill or a Wild West town that's forgotten which side of the border it's on.

CNN's Ed Lavander paid a visit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hola. Hi. How are you?

(voice-over): If you want to find what you're looking for in El Cenizo, more than just a little bit of Espanol goes a long way.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Habla Espanol o Ingles?

CONSUELO REYNERA, RESIDENT OF EL CENIZO, TEXAS: Both.

LAVANDERA: Both?

(voice-over): Consuelo Reynera works the cash register in this border town's only grocery store.

(on camera): Most of your customers hear, do they speak Spanish?

REYNERA: They speak Spanish, yes.

LAVANDERA: No English?

REYNERA: They do speak English a little bit.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): El Cenizo is a small Texas town of 6,500 people overlooking the Rio Grande. It's not unusual for people down here to speak Spanish and English. Nearly everyone does. But El Cenizo is different. It officially conducts all of its city business in Spanish.

(on camera): I'm looking for the mayor. I don't know...

(voice-over): Today, the town is led by a 24-year-old mayor whose first language is English. He personally translates meeting agendas into Spanish.

(on camera): So, do you have a stack in English and a stack in Spanish?

RAUL REYES, MAYOR OF EL CENIZO, TEXAS: Mm-hmm.

LAVANDERA: And, at end of the meeting, which stack is empty?

REYES: This one.

LAVANDERA: And these are all just kind of still sitting -- the English ones are still sitting there, and the Spanish ones are gone?

REYES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Reyes says this was nothing more than a dusty border outpost until 1999, but, now, with the city and its people speaking the same language, streets are paved. There's a police force and a fire station.

REYES: Well, there's like good, positive things happening. And you get to that with the support and the collaboration of the residents that reside in this...

(CROSSTALK)

LAVANDERA (on camera): And do you think that happened because city business here is conducted in Spanish?

REYES: That's right. You know, we speak their language.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Most of El Cenizo's residents are Mexican-Americans here legally. Reyes says, since city council meetings are conducted in Spanish, more people participate.

(on camera): What do you say to those people who say, you know, by God, this is the United States; you need to speak English?

REYES: No, I agree. There's no doubt in anybody's mind that, if you want to prosper and you want to get a good job, you need to learn how to speak English.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And having Spanish as the official language isn't all that makes this town unique. It also considers itself a safe haven for illegal immigrants. A local ordinance prohibits city employees from turning in illegal immigrants.

Angry threats poured in after El Cenizo made those changes. And they haven't stopped. But Police Chief Juan Alejandro says the attacks are senseless.

JUAN ALEJANDRO, EL CENIZO, TEXAS, POLICE CHIEF: And, if people get upset by it, then so be it. So be it. Get upset, because you're not here. You're not in this situation, and you're not helping us.

LAVANDERA: People here like to joke that the official language should be Spanglish, a little bit of both languages, so everyone can understand.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, El Cenizo, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: So he hasn't launched a campaign, but he just gave something that sounds an awful lot like a campaign speech.

We'll have the details straight ahead from the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Want to get you live now to California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a press conference talking about those fires in Tahoe.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: ... they've done such an extraordinary job here fighting these fires 24 hours a day.

(APPLAUSE)

SCHWARZENEGGER: Without any doubt, they are, you know, the most extraordinary heroes. As I've said many times, I've done action movies where I've played the hero, but these are the true action heroes. And I just wanted to say that we simply have the bravest and the most skilled firefighters. And we have even seen, you know, write-ups and people talking about it in Europe.

I just came back from Europe, and people talk about the greatest firefighters and the best-trained and the toughest firefighters in the world. That's what they call the California firefighters. I mean, it's really extraordinary.

So I just want to say thank you to all of them.

And I know that much of the western United States has experienced droughts. And this is why we have seen it coming, that everyone has said, the experts have said that they predicted severe fire seasons this coming year. And this year -- and that's why in May I issued an executive order to mobilize additional fighting personnel -- fighting personnel and fire fighting equipment and all of this so that we are prepared and we'd be ready for that. And it has paid off now in this particular fire.

I just got the latest update. We have 1,900 firefighters that are fighting here and fire personnel. Forty-four percent of the fire has been contained.

We have here 3,100 acres that were destroyed. Anywhere between 175 to 200 homes have been destroyed. An additional 75 structures have also been destroyed.

More than 3,500 residents have been evacuated. And luckily, very orderly and peacefully -- peacefully evacuated.

Miraculously, we had no fatalities and we had no serious injuries. There were some injuries amongst firefighters, and we hope that they will be heeled up as soon as possible, and we hope they're back on the job again as quickly as possible.

This was, of course, a very fast-moving fire and a very destructive fire. But, of course, it could have been much worse if we wouldn't have had such well-trained firefighters.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank our lieutenant governor, John Garamendi, who was the acting governor during the time I was overseas. He has done an extraordinary job. He jumped into action, briefed me continuously while I was gone as soon as the fire started. And for him, the most important thing was, of course, to protect the people and the property and to control the fire as quickly as possible, and to get the people back to the -- to normal life, and also to rebuild this community as quickly as possible.

So let's give a big hand to Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi.

LT. GOV. JOHN GARAMENDI (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SCHWARZENEGGER: We also have here with us our great insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, who is going to do a great job this year with his whole team to, again, get in touch with the people and to make sure that they get their homes and their lives back together as quickly as possible.

Let's give a big hand also to Steve, right here, Steve Poizner.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SCHWARZENEGGER: This was, of course, one of the worst fires in Lake Tahoe's history. And we took very quick and decisive -- and quick action on multi fronts. And I think this is what really helped us here to contain this fire and to bring it somewhat under control.

Beginning on Sunday afternoon, soon after the fire was reported, I was in constant contact with everybody, with the emergency officials, and with, as I said, with Lieutenant Governor Garamendi. And on Monday morning, he issued an emergency proclamation for El Dorado County that will provide state funding in order to cover the cost of fighting the fire and also to rebuild the infrastructure as quickly as possible.

On Tuesday, we created the local assistance center that will help people who have been displaced by the fire. And the center offers, of course, one-stop assistants from a score of different state agencies. We are here to help all of the people, make sure that the fire victims, you know, get quick assistance, because that's the important thing, is to get quick assistance, and that's what we are trying to do here.

Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places, we all know, not only in the great state of California, but I would say all over the world. I mean, this place has been known all over the world. And so I think it's very important for us to bring this back to shape as quickly as possible.

I think, like all Californians, I'm very concerned what happens now in the next few days, weeks, months and years ahead of us. The fire is still not fully contained. I think that the firefighters know that there is a huge challenge ahead of them and a lot of work ahead of them to contain this fire.

But I've already directed the California resources and the California Environmental Protection Agency to draft an aggressive restoration plan as quickly as possible to keep Tahoe restored and to bring it back to its pre-fire conditions. This will require a great deal of effort and cooperation of all the agencies, if it is the federal agencies, state agencies, regional and local agencies.

I think everyone is now working together. That's the key to respond to all of this as quickly as possible.

And with that now, I just want to say again, thank you very much to the firefighters and to all of you for working together here.

And now I would like to have Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi come out and say a few words. Please.

(APPLAUSE)

GARAMENDI: Governor, thank you very much.

What we have seen over the last three days is extraordinary effort by the local citizens, by the firefighters from California, from the federal government, and also from the state of Nevada.

Governor Gibbons, your people were over here immediately, both the firefighters, as well as police agencies.

That kind of interstate cooperation really is a hallmark of what has always taken place here in the Tahoe basin. This is a spectacular part of this world. And men and women, local, federal and state, saved a large part of this community. But unfortunately, there are victims of this fire. And many people have lost their homes.

As we toured the fire a few moments ago, the governor noticed on the ground this. And those of us that were following behind him said it reminds us of a certain line in a movie. And we'd like to change the first word of that. Instead of "I," it's "We'll be back."

This community will be back, Governor. And you should keep this as a symbol of what the restoration will be here in this community.

This community will pull itself together. And as a result of the efforts that have been made...

LEMON: OK. You're listening to the lieutenant governor of California.

Earlier, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, spoke, talked about the fires there. He said 44 percent contained, 3,500 residents have been evacuated in this area, 3,100 acres destroyed in this, 175 to 200 homes. That's a lot of homes, with over 100 more structures as well affected. And 1,900 firefighters on the job, all trying to battle these blazes.

PHILLIPS: Well, the closing bell is about to ring on Wall Street.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

PHILLIPS: Take you to "THE SITUATION ROOM" now.

LEMON: And Wolf Blitzer.

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