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THE SITUATION ROOM
California Fires; Republicans Prepare to Debate. Trump Fights Back; Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired September 14, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Trump fights back. The Republican presidential front-runner under fire ahead of the CNN GOP debate, but giving as good as he gets. We're standing by for Donald Trump's huge rally tonight in Texas. Will he launch a new round of attacks?
State of emergency. A huge wildfire in California's wine country turns deadly. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed as the flames burn out of control. Can firefighters save thousands more that are threatened?
And fight risk. A stunning mistake by one of the world's biggest airlines sends a plane full of passengers on a Pacific flight, a transpacific flight without the necessary equipment to save them in case of emergency. How did this dangerous mistake happen?
Not backing down. The Kentucky county clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples back on the job now, but standing her ground. Deputy clerks are issuing licenses instead, but without her signature. Are they valid or has she found a new way to defy court orders?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All eyes on Donald Trump as he prepares to face off against his rivals in the upcoming CNN Republican presidential debate. The GOP front-runner is about to hold a massive rally, 20,000 free tickets gone in an instant, and now some are being offered for sale on eBay for as much as $200.
Trump clearly the man to beat in the debate as he towers over his rivals in the polls.
And we're also following this very dangerous situation unfolding right now in California. There are hundreds of homes destroyed, thousands more threatened, one person now confirmed dead in a fast- moving wildfire that is ravaging huge swathes of the state's iconic wine country.
But, first, the contentious Republican race for the White House. We're now less than 48 hours ahead of the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California, where the candidates will spar in a potentially game-changing battle Wednesday night.
We are covering all of that and more this hour with our correspondents and our guests and our expert analysts.
And CNN's John Berman begins our coverage from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where the field of GOP candidates will face off on Wednesday night.
It looks like Donald Trump is someone who a lot of candidates have set in their sights, John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, I'm actually standing on the debate stage where they will face off Wednesday night.
Behind me, you can see the row of podiums there and right in the center, that is the podium will Donald Trump will be standing, a position he has earned because he's out in front of the polls, and I mean all the polls. So, every other candidate on this stage right now, they are honing in. They are focused on Donald Trump tonight trying to figure out some kind of way to dent that armor.
BERMAN (voice-over): On the cusp of the CNN Republican debate, there is Donald Trump and then there is everyone else.
CROWD: Donald Trump, Donald Trump!
BERMAN: A new poll from ABC News and "The Washington Post" shows Trump with a healthy 13-point lead over Dr. Ben Carson, but Carson has a healthy lead over the rest of them. Less healthy, Jeb Bush pulling peaked down at 8 percent. Tough news for Bush going into Wednesday's CNN debate, where a strong performance could be crucial after what critics consider a lackluster job in the first debate.
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Maybe the barrier -- the bar's even higher for me. That's fine.
BERMAN: And now Bush is getting his wife, Columba, into the mix, including her in a campaign video.
COLUMBA BUSH, WIFE OF JEB BUSH: We go to church every Sunday. We have celebrations.
BERMAN: As she speaks about their family while Jeb speaks in Spanish.
It's not just good news in the national polls for Donald Trump, but in the key early state of New Hampshire as well. The latest Monmouth University poll gives him an 11-point edge there, with Carson gaining ground in second. Trump will bring polls and his pomp to Dallas tonight, a rally two days just before the big debate.
But it's not all rosy for Trump. One poll shows 70 percent of Latinos find Trump insulting or offensive, and 65 percent say he is hurting the GOP's image, despite insisting he is on his best behavior.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm trying to be nice.
BERMAN: Carly Fiorina's backers beg to differ. Her super PAC released this campaign video after Trump ridiculed Fiorina's face to "Rolling Stone."
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the face of a 61-year-old woman. I am proud of every year and every wrinkle.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: This is everything that is wrong.
BERMAN: Trump's campaign manager told me the problem in politics is not criticizing a woman's face, but a video defending that face.
LEWANDOWSKI: It's the fact that these super PACs are out there. They have huge amounts of money being funneled into them, so they can go out and attack candidates if that's what they want to do or give any message they want.
BERMAN (voice-over): Don't expect an apology from Donald Trump, not based on what he told Jimmy Fallon.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": When you were little Donny Trump, did you ever -- did you ever apologize?
TRUMP: This was not supposed to be one of the questions. I will apologize sometime in the hopefully distant future if I'm ever wrong.
BERMAN: One race was decided today, the "Celebrity Apprentice" primary. NBC announced that celebrity turned politician turned celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the new host of the show, replacing Donald Trump. No bad blood from Donald Trump, though. He sent out a tweet congratulating Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying he will be great -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, John Berman in Simi Valley, thank you so much.
And Donald Trump is busy tonight. He's holding a rally in Dallas; 20,000 people are expected to turn out there. Some Latino groups, though, they are using this event to protest Trump's immigration stance.
CNN political reporter Sara Murray is in Dallas for us.
What can we expect, Sara?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Brianna.
Yes, some candidates take it easy before a big debate. They study with their advisers, not Donald Trump. Donald Trump will be here in Dallas, where he is packing this arena with fans who just want to see the guy up close and personal. They want to see him on the debate and talk more about policy.
But tonight, I think it's all about seeing Donald Trump the showman, having a chance to see him fire up the crowd, you know. This is a guy a lot of people recognize from "The Apprentice" and we're in the deep red state of Texas, so there are plenty of Republicans here to pull on. And, by the way, remember a week ago when Donald Trump was hugging Ted Cruz? Now he's looking to pull voters right here in Ted Cruz's home state, Brianna.
KEILAR: It almost looks like a convention floor. It's so intriguing there, Sara. But you said he's firing up supporters. Donald Trump is also firing up Hispanic leaders. I know they are planning to protest this event with a dump the Trump march. Tell us about that.
MURRAY: That's right. We just heard John Berman talking about how, despite Donald Trump saying he will win the Hispanic vote, the polls do not bear that out. A number of people are very offended by his rhetoric on immigrants, particularly on Hispanic immigrants.
And so they're taking that to the streets today. So far, it's a relatively small group of protesters marching outside. At the end of that protest, there is a big old Donald Trump pinata waiting for them, though.
KEILAR: Sara Murray for us in Dallas, thank you so much.
Hillary Clinton says that she's among millions of people who will watch the GOP candidates face off Wednesday night. Clinton is campaigning in Iowa. She's trying to shore up her declining poll numbers there among women while her closest rival, Bernie Sanders, took his campaign into some pretty unlikely territory.
CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, following Hillary Clinton for us.
Tell us what the Democrats are up to, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brianna.
Well, a pair of events for Hillary Clinton here in the state of Iowa today, one still going on. That one is in Decorah. Another earlier today here at the University of Northern Iowa, both targeted toward increasing Hillary Clinton's appeal with women, which appears to be an ongoing problem now for her campaign.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It starts right here in Iowa and I need your help. JOHNS (voice-over): Hillary Clinton back in Iowa today
acknowledging the CNN Republican debate and dismissing it in the same breath.
CLINTON: Now, on Wednesday, the Republicans will have another of their debates. And we can expect to hear more of the same, the top- down, out-of-touch policies that they have been hawking for years.
JOHNS: This was the latest in a series of Clinton events reaching out to women voters. In the latest poll, while Clinton is still the clear front-runner with 42 percent, her support among women has declined sharply, falling nearly 30 points.
Speaking to reporters, she sidestepped a question about why.
CLINTON: I feel very confident about where we are in the campaign and very committed to doing everything I can to make my case as effectively as possible to women and men and I think that will be successful.
JOHNS: Second in the polls and rising, Clinton's emerging rival, Bernie Sanders, speaking to an unlikely group at the convocation for evangelical Liberty University.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not a theologian. I am not an expert on the Bible.
JOHNS: Acknowledging his very different belief system.
SANDERS: I believe in women's rights and the right of a woman to control her own body. I believe in gay rights and gay marriage.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SANDERS: Those are my views, and it is no secret.
JOHNS: But finding common ground on his campaign theme of financial equality.
SANDERS: There is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.
JOHNS: And while he isn't even in the race, Vice President Biden is up in the polls, gaining nine points. He's back in Washington, D.C., after his week out on the road fueling speculation on whether he will jump in.
JOHNS: And Bloomberg reporting a tantalizing little fact, that during his trip to New York City, Biden actually sat down with a major Democratic fund-raiser who is a supporter of Hillary Clinton, only adding to the question whether he will jump into the race -- Brianna.
KEILAR: It sure does.
Joe Johns for us in Iowa, thank you.
Let's get more on all of this now with CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza. He's Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." And CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish, with us.
Thank you, guys, for being with us.
So, Ryan, we hear the Clinton campaign, they are really trying to turn things around here. Hillary Clinton is trying to turn a corner from talking about her e-mails all the time. We saw her dancing on "Ellen" last week. She will be on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" this week. What does she need to do though to really connect with voters, as her campaign wants her to?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the big thing is she needs to come up with a reason for her campaign, rather than inevitability, rather than I'm your only choice. As David Axelrod put it on Twitter the other day, live with it.
This race reminds me a lot of 2000, when you had Al Gore, the sitting vice president. He sort of cleared the entire Democratic field, and then had token opposition from Bill Bradley. And all of this excitement and all the liberals went with Bill Bradley and he sort of was out there giving speeches like Bernie Sanders, and poor Al Gore has to retool his campaign about 10 times.
He eventually won the race, but he had a lot of problems generating enthusiasm. I think that's her problem right now, is she hasn't articulated a clear, concise message for why she should be the nominee. And I think the old line is Republicans fall in line and Democrats fall in love, and right now, Democrats are -- you know, a good chunk of Democrats are falling in love with Bernie Sanders and she has to figure out how to capture.
KEILAR: Michael, when she started off a few months ago and launched her campaign, her line was, I want to fight for everyday Americans and I am their champion and that was what we heard over and over. It seems like maybe that didn't resonate. They are, the campaign, kind of retooling that.
Where do they go from here if that message didn't really, it wasn't the hook that caught on?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Brianna, I think even more frustrating than that not having caught on is the fact that she's been issuing a number of substantive papers, much to the detriment of other candidates.
Ruth Marcus commented on this, as a matter of fact, earlier this week in "The Washington Post" and said she has put out policy paper after policy paper and yet no one seems to be paying attention. Why? Because it's a season of entertainment. It's all about the Donald sucking all the oxygen out of the room and it's very hard for her on a substantive basis to compete with that.
KEILAR: All right. We are going to be back in just a moment. We have more on Hillary Clinton, more on Donald Trump, who is gearing up for a huge rally in Dallas.
We will be talking about this in just a moment.
KEILAR: We are less than 48 hours from the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California.
And front-runner Donald Trump is holding a huge rally in Dallas tonight with a crowd of 20,000 people expected to turn out.
I do want to bring back now Ryan Lizza. We are joined as well by Jeffrey Toobin and we have Michael Smerconish with us as well.
I don't know if you guys were watching the Miss America Pageant live. I suspect not. However, it's pretty interesting. What direction am I going, you might wonder? OK. Well, Donald Trump came up this weekend at the Miss America Pageant. He is everywhere. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think he's leading by such an overwhelming margin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Donald Trump is an entertainer, and I think he says what's on a lot of people's minds, but I think that the Republican Party should be absolutely terrified of all the attention that he is taking from incredible candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who could absolutely do the job of president of the United States. And if I were a Republican, I would absolutely be terrified of that.
Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So that was Miss Alabama, Meg McGuffin.
And this, I think is pretty interesting, Ryan, because I don't know. I think that might be some astute political analysis, where she said some of these candidates should be absolutely terrified.
LIZZA: I was just going to say, we should invite her onto the panel here. She's -- that's good political punditry there.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But did she win?
LIZZA: I missed the end. I fell asleep.
KEILAR: Ryan -- no, she did not win. Fact-check I just got in my ear.
But, Ryan, this is pretty -- this is amazing, right?
LIZZA: Do we know what her political affiliation is? I think it's kind of interesting that she said that the Republican Party should be terrified.
And I, frankly, she's channeling the feelings of a lot of Republicans these days who are worried that it's been three months now with Donald Trump at the top of the polls, winning a quarter to a third nationally in of most of the states. And there's not a single thing that has put a dent in him yet.
And I think when she says a lot of Republicans are terrified, that is actually what a lot of the Republican establishment in D.C. and elsewhere believes.
KEILAR: I don't know for sure what her political affiliation is. I suspect that it is Republican because she was giving props to Jeb Bush and to Chris Christie as well
But, Michael, your take on that, sort of I guess really looking at this from the point of view of candidates who are getting ready to take on Trump in this debate two days out. Do you think they are terrified? How are they preparing to take him on?
SMERCONISH: I think what she puts her finger on is the fact that the GOP potentially has a branding problem because of the summer and potentially the fall of Trump.
Take a look at the poll that was just released today where 70 percent of Hispanics view Trump disfavorably. The GOP can only win the general election by growing the tent. They can either grow the white vote, but that seems unlikely because it was so maxed out by Mitt Romney and he lost. Or they can grow the non-white vote.
This doesn't seem to be a strategy that expands the tent for the non-white vote. She's entirely accurate.
KEILAR: Guys, stand by. I'm going to bring you back in after we talk to someone who represents Donald Trump, Katrina Pierson, spokeswoman for the Tea Party Leadership Fund. She's a Trump supporter.
So, Katrina, I hope you could hear some of that. We were actually talking about Miss America, the pageant and how one of the contestants addressed Donald Trump, saying that other Republicans should be terrified. We just heard Michael Smerconish saying that he really needs to look towards expanding the tent and he may struggle to do that. What do you think about that?
KATRINA PIERSON, SPOKESPERSON, TEA PARTY LEADERSHIP FUND: Well, I'm going to have to disagree, but I will say I don't represent Donald Trump. I'm just here in support of his campaign.
But I will also say that if you look at current polling, Mr. Trump is expanding the voter base. He's winning hands down everywhere. He's even winning Hispanics in Nevada. What we're talking about here is someone who wants to go out and expand the message of making America great again and solving real issues like illegal immigration here in Texas, which is a very important issue.
It's no more political point after point. It's no more think tank talking points. What you have here is someone who has absolutely nothing to lose who is saying, I'm tired of this. I played this game for too long and now we're trying to make America great again. And that's what resonating. It's not pandering.
KEILAR: We do certainly look at the crowd behind you, Katrina, and no doubt there is an appeal that is bringing people out to these events. It's going to be a very different situation for Donald Trump in two days when he's on the debate stage. It will even be a different debate than really the first Republican one, which was really introductory, allowing voters to get a sense of who the field was.
We are expecting that there may be more demands for specifics. How is he preparing to answer those?
PIERSON: I think he is looking at all of the topics that everyone has been sort of throwing at him. He doesn't have the politician demeanor. He doesn't have a consultant class sitting down writing every sentence that he says on every topic.
He's just your average guy that tells you what he thinks. Then he gets the information and has an informed assessment. I think this debate will be different because he is preparing to have a substantive discussion on the issues moving forward.
KEILAR: I want to ask you because you are a surrogate for Donald Trump, or you do support him -- he recently insulted Carly Fiorina's face. This is according to a "Rolling Stone" reporter -- saying: "Would anyone vote for that?"
What is your reaction to that and also about maybe how that could turn off some female supporters? Or maybe you think it won't.
PIERSON: Well, I don't, mainly because it came from the "Rolling Stone" where just a few months ago all of the same pundits were saying it was a trash magazine because it reported false allegations about a college rape.
I don't take anything that comes out of the "Rolling Stone" as gold. However, Mr. Trump said he said something to the effect of that, but he didn't say that in particular, and besides even...
PIERSON: And I'm tired of the double standard.
But here is the thing. There is a double standard going on. Women can talk about other women and it's fine. Men can talk about other women and it's fine, until it's somebody the media doesn't like and it's Donald Trump. Because some Republican is out there saying something, all of a sudden, it horrible.
KEILAR: Katrina, if I could challenge you on this, I think any Republican candidate who said something -- and I will also add that Donald Trump is not disputing the facts of what he said. He sort of disputes the interpretation.
But if any Republican candidate said that about Carly Fiorina, we would absolutely be calling them on that.
PIERSON: Absolutely. I agree with you 100 percent. However, Donald Trump treats everyone the same, and that's a part of his appeal.
KEILAR: OK. So he would also -- but he hasn't talked about the faces of his male opponents. I would add that as well. Do you think that he needs to perhaps tone that down to attract more women?
I know you're saying he's doing pretty well with them and we see that in the polls, but does this really help him?
PIERSON: No, I don't think it helps, but I also don't think it hurts.
And I think throughout this cycle, he's learning how to be more of a candidate, of a politician and that's with anyone new in this type of stage, particularly a national stage now, so I think he's a work in progress and I think he's gotten better over time.
KEILAR: OK. I want you to listen to something that Hillary Clinton, she said today in Cedar Falls, Iowa, about not just Trump, but other Republicans. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: It is somewhat entertaining. Their flamboyant front- runner has grabbed a lot of the attention lately, but if you look at the policies of all of them running, they are pretty much the same. They are Trump, just without the pizzazz and the hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Katrina, Democrats believe that Donald Trump is a gift, that they can lump Republican candidates in with him, that they can excite their base because their base doesn't like his bombast. What do you say to that?
PIERSON: Well, I think Donald Trump is actually now moving up in the polls against Democrats, so it's just something that they are out there saying to galvanize their own base. Hillary is tanking and she's losing to Donald Trump as we speak. I don't think about that at all.
KEILAR: You have organizers there with the League of United Latin American Citizens. They're planning a march tonight and they're calling it a march against hate. They're protesting Trump. In a recent MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll, there were 65 percent Latino voters who said that he's hurting the Republican Party.
Is the campaign and are surrogates like you concerned about his favorability with Latinos?
PIERSON: I'm not concerned at all.
I mean, Mr. Trump is just going to be Mr. Trump no matter what. He is going to continue to go out there and talk about the things he wants to do to help make our country great and there are going to be people who aren't going to like that. That's a part of the campaign. You can't make everyone happy all of the time, which is what most candidates like to do.
And that's another reason why Mr. Trump is resonating.
KEILAR: I think you definitely have a point on that one.
Katrina, thank you so much, Katrina Pierson for us there in Dallas, where Donald Trump is expecting as many as 20,000 people in a packed stadium there.
KEILAR: I want to bring back now Ryan Lizza, Jeffrey Toobin and Michael Smerconish.
Jeff, react to that, react to what you're hearing from his surrogate, who is saying that this really isn't going to hurt him.
TOOBIN: It seems like the Trump campaign at this moment is about two things. One is his popularity is evidence of his popularity. I have never seen a candidate or a surrogate talk about polls more than Trump does, I mean, the idea that I'm popular because you can tell that I'm popular in the polls.
That works for now, but, I mean, if the polls turn around, it's hard to know what he will talk about. The other thing is about immigration. He wants to get rid of 12 million people somehow and he wants to make America great again. You know that because it's on his hat.
So, beyond make America great again and his poll numbers and immigration, it's just hard to know what this campaign is really about. KEILAR: It really has, Ryan, kind of turned some of the
conventional thinking on its head, but when you look at some of the numbers that we're seeing from Latino voters, and we're hearing Donald Trump say, no, I'm going to do fine, fact-check us on that.
LIZZA: Well, look, I don't want -- the entire strategic plan for the Republican Party since Mitt Romney lost in 2012, as articulated by Reince Priebus and the RNC, is that -- as Michael was pointing out a few minutes ago, is that Republicans will never win the White House again unless they reach out to non-white voters.
[18:30:16] I mean, they wrote a report. It's on the Republican Party's website. It's the most important thing they need to do as a party, because America's demographics are changing; and unless the Republican Party reaches out to non-white voters, they won't be a national party. Everyone knows that. And Donald Trump is running a campaign based on a very, very different strategy.
Just two things can I add about what I thought was interesting about her comments. And, you know, you see this from a lot of Trump supporters. One is they don't really care that he has not been consistent ideologically, that this idea that he's a work in progress is OK to conservatives, which I find fascinating. They don't care that he's moved around on the issues. They like sort of that he's learning as he goes.
And then the other, the other thing is that-- this is a point that Jeff -- Jeff also made, is that his -- they believe his popularity; they believe the polls. They believe that if he's winning over the summer the year before an election, that that means he's inevitable.
And most candidates try and keep expectations a lot lower, don't talk about the polls so much.
KEILAR: Yes. That...
LIZZA: He keeps raising them. And as soon as this guy starts going down in the polls, you know, the media is going to jump all over that story, and he's going to have a tough time dealing with that.
KEILAR: Michael, give us your assessment here of the sort of Trump situation going into this debate.
SMERCONISH: OK. And I'll base it on the fact, Brianna, that directly across from me 50 yards away is that venue where the debate itself will take place, with Ronald Reagan's Air Force One. And having just walked on that stage and looked at the dynamics, what struck me is the fact that there are only 500 seats in there.
You've referenced that Donald Trump tonight is going to be in Dallas, Texas, and there will be 20,000 folks. That first debate in Cleveland was held where LeBron James plays basketball, 20,000 people. You could play to the crowd. You could elicit a response from the audience. This isn't going to have that dynamic. Five hundred people,
where you have CNN representatives; you have an allotment of tickets, a small allotment to each of these 11 candidates. I don't think there's going to be a crowd to be rallied. So what it suggests to me is that it might be a more substantive conversation, because the soundbites that a guy like Trump is inclined to utilize are going to ring a bit hollow in the room that I just toured.
KEILAR: All right. We will be looking. That's a really good point, Michael. We'll be looking to see if that does -- does end up being true.
Thanks so much, Michael Smerconish, Ryan Lizza, Jeffrey Toobin. Really appreciate it, you guys.
SMERCONISH: Thank you.
KEILAR: And that Republican presidential debate, it's just two days away now. These candidates getting ready for their second round answering questions. We're going to have that for you, live here on CNN Wednesday from the Reagan Library in California.
And just ahead, California's wildfires have turned deadly after forcing thousands to flee their homes. When are these going to be contained.
And then also, one of the world's biggest airlines makes a giant mistake. What is being done to make sure it does not happen again?
[18:38:04] KEILAR: At least one person has been killed by a devastating wildfire that's destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings in Northern California's wine country. The Valley Fire is burning out of control. This is about 90 miles north of San Francisco, and that's where we find CNN's Dan Simon, in Middletown, where entire neighborhoods have really been wiped off the map here.
Dan, what's happening right now?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we're learning details how that person died in the fire, and you talk about a heartbreaking situation. This is an elderly woman. She was disabled. A call had been made to the authorities on her behalf. Somebody was worried about her. And when fire crews showed up, her home was already engulfed in flames. This is somebody who was unable to self-evacuate.
We are in the town of Middletown, and you can see that this one neighborhood, entirely flattened. It's just amazing to look at this. It looks like a bomb went off.
To give you an idea of just how hot this fire was, take a look at this minivan. There's just -- there's just nothing left.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIMON (voice-over): With hundreds of homes destroyed, the
massive Valley Wildfire has become the most destructive blaze of the summer in the parched west. The fire has burned more than 60,000 acres, the conditions so terrible that the governor has declared a state of emergency for four counties.
GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: These fire will take lives, and they will cause injuries. And we have to do the best we can, because we are really in a battle with nature that nature is more powerful than we are.
CHIEF KEN PIMLOTT, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: We don't see an end in fire season for the months to come. We're planning for that. We're in this for the long haul. We are continuing to use all of the resources at our disposal. Governor Brown provided some additional funding.
SIMON: The fire, 100 miles west of Sacramento, spread so fast that people had very little time to evacuate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything behind the gas station is gone. The school is gone. The store is gone.
SIMON: And that wasn't the only fire to hit Northern California. Seventy miles east of Sacramento, another wildfire has grown to more than 70,000 acres, still threatening thousands of structures. Together, the two fires have destroyed well more than 500 homes.
MELISSA CANCHOIA, EVACUEE: Being with everybody that's going through the same thing makes us feel like we actually have a family right here with us, you know, besides our immediate family.
SIMON: At the Napa County Fairgrounds, evacuees set up what looks like a tent city. Melissa Canchoia and her four children wondering if their house is still standing.
CANCHOIA: I just want to go home, if I have a home anymore.
SIMON (on camera): What do you think the chances are?
CANCHOIA: Not good. I don't think there is anything left.
SIMON (voice-over): About 5,500 firefighters are working to save the homes, but after four years of drought, the area remains a tinderbox with what seems like an unlimited supply of highly-flammable fuel.
SIMON: And back here live, you can see that the fire is still smoldering in places, and you can also see the wind sort of whipping that smoke around. That is not a good sign. Authorities were hoping that the wind would completely die down, but that has not been the case.
At this point, Brianna, this fire is just 5 percent contained, so they have a lot of work to do.
KEILAR: Yes. With bad conditions heading for them tonight. A lot of work. Dan Simon in Middletown, California, thanks so much.
We are standing by right now for Donald Trump's rally in Dallas to begin. Twenty thousand people are expected to hear the Republican presidential frontrunner.
Plus a stunning mistake by one of the world's biggest airlines. Were passengers' lives at risk?
[18:46:25] KEILAR: One of the world's biggest airlines makes a huge mistake and we're learning troubling details about it.
I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.
Catch us up here.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, this was an American Airlines flight with passengers onboard. It made this long-haul trip over the Pacific Ocean. The problem is, federal regulators say the plane was not properly equipped to make that trip.
We have learned tonight that multiple layers of safety failed allowing this to happen.
MARSH (voice-over): Tonight, American Airlines is struggling to explain a major mistake. Flight 31 filled with passengers and crew flew from Los Angeles to Hawaii without the proper equipment needed for a long-haul trip over the Pacific Ocean.
Now, CNN has learned a federal investigation is underway.
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: What it shows is a sloppy procedure on a very important safety issue.
MARSH: The FAA mandates planes flying routes where there's no place to land in case of an emergency must have additional fire suppression equipment in the cargo area and extra medical equipment like oxygen in the cabin.
Flight 31 didn't have the extra equipment.
Maintenance crews are required to sign off on a checklist of items that need to be on board before a plane takes off.
GOELZ: The chance a plane goes down over an ocean or over the polar icecap is a very serious event. And they have numerous checks and balances that say the list of which is the dispatch system. How did it get through the dispatch system without being red flagged is the real question. MARSH: The airline didn't realize the error until the flight was
already in the air. American alerted the FAA and the decision was made to let the flight continue across the Pacific. American admits the mistake but insists the Airbus 321S, quote, "flies over water regularly for many missions," end quote.
Experts agree the aircraft itself was capable of making the flight but warned that had there been a mid-air emergency over the Pacific with no place to divert, the consequences could have been disastrous.
GOELZ: Should the unusual occur, if there was a fire in the cargo hold of the aircraft, then the extra level of protection that's required for these kinds of flights would not have been available, and there would have been a problem.
MARSH: Usually the way this works is a dispatcher is supposed to sign off on the aircraft, then the maintenance crew and finally the flight crew. But none of those people caught the mistake before takeoff. I spoke to several people in the industry, including pilots, who suggested this could be another wrinkle in the operations as a result of the merger between American and U.S. Airways.
We should point that the plane did land safely and the airline says since this all happened, they have made some updates to their software to ensure that the wrong plane doesn't be put on a specific route again.
KEILAR: Unbelievable. But encouraging they made changes.
All right. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.
Just ahead, we are waiting to hear from Donald Trump. He's about to hold a rally in Texas, a huge rally as you can see from these live pictures coming into us.
Also, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples goes back to work and faces her first challenge.
[18:54:16] KEILAR: There were some really tense moments in Kentucky today. County clerk Kim Davis returned to work after doing jail time after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But shortly after she got to the office, a same sex couple came in.
Well, CNN's Alexandra Field is in Kentucky to tell us -- Alexandra.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Brianna. From the start this morning, Kim Davis was resolute in her
conviction that she would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She publicly reaffirmed her faith which she says precludes her from doing just that, but she also said that she wouldn't stand in the way of deputy clerks who were willing to follow the judge's orders and hand out those licenses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIM DAVIS, ROWAN COUNTY CLERK: And so this morning, I am force to fashion a remedy that reconciles my conscience with Judge Bunning's order.
[18:55:08] Effective immediately, and until an accommodation is provided by those with the authority, it will not be authorized or issued by me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: Kim Davis did insist on making some changes to those licenses. Her name was stripped from the document, her title was stripped from it, and there was a note saying that the license was being issued pursuant to a federal judge's order.
And I'll remind you, Brianna, that last week, her deputy clerks also issued some licenses which didn't have her name on it. At the time, the governor and attorney general weighed in saying that even though the documents had been altered, they would still be considered valid for all of the couples who received them.
KEILAR: All right. Alexandra Field for us there in Kentucky -- oh, actually, I want to ask you something. Tell us about this couple that got married today. You talked to them. What did they tell you?
FIELD: This is a couple that has been together for more than 20 years. They have roots here in Rowan County. It was important to them to show up on this day when they knew that Kim Davis would be back here. But they also knew that they were going to face a big crowd and that many in that crowd would not be their supporters. Listen to how they reflected on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARMEN WAMPLER-COLLINS, ISSUED MARRIAGE LICENSE: Especially when you're out on a front line, sort of facing that all day, it does wear you down and it's emotional, it's hurtful, like it can't be, but it also makes me a little incredulous that there are people who actually feel that way and today, honestly, when we knew that we were actually going to get the license, I think the joy about that just overwhelmed everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: Both women said they had no interest in seeing Kim Davis return to jail but say they are counting on the courts to ensure that all couples who want to issue a marriage license to continue to have access to those licenses in this county -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Alexandra, thanks so much for that report.
I want to bring in Sunny Hostin, Jeffrey Toobin and Don Lemon to discuss this.
Jeffrey, to you first. The way this is all developed in how you have really these licenses being issued without her name or her title, what do you think about that and what that means for other county clerk who feel the way Kim Davis does?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think the short answer is, this crisis appears to be over, because, you know, we've heard a lot about Kim Davis' rights, but those same-sex couples have rights, too, and they have the right to get married. It now appears that they have jerry-rigged the system where they are treated equally to all other couples in their right to get married. And if that is the case, if these marriage licenses hold up, this story is over.
And, you know, I think the news is every county in America, regardless of what the personal preferences of the leadership thinks, has to treat same-sex couples with equality and that finally appears to be happening in Rowan County.
KEILAR: What do you think, Sunny?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think she's still flouting the law. I mean, she is supposed to follow the law of the land. She is not doing that. I think this is a makeshift solution but she -- the bottom line is, until her conscience starts signing her paycheck, she is supposed to do what her -- what the office of the clerk is supposed to do.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I love you, Sunny.
HOSTIN: So I think that this is still a problem. I'm very curious as to whether or not the federal judge will weigh in, the same judge that put her in prison. I think the bottom line is, prison wasn't such a great place for her to be, which is why she is out of prison, but she's still flouting the law.
KEILAR: Do you think that's -- what do you think, Don?
LEMON: I agree. Listen, we all do things -- I'm sure as attorneys that Sunny and Jeffrey represented people who were guilty and they may not --
HOSTIN: I didn't.
LEMON: --it may not have served their conscience. That's in the law, that's your job. I'm sure people who repossess cars do things that go against their conscience. I'm sure people who evict people from homes -- you know, everyone does something in their job.
That's why it's called the separation of church and state. And if she does not want to be in this position -- if she doesn't want to issue licenses, she should not be in this job. I have respect for her religious beliefs, but she is now -- she has broken the law and it appears she's following it now, but she keeps coming up with things to try to get out of it. She should just do her job and it has nothing to do with what other people do in their bedroom or nothing to do with anybody else's marriage. That's their business.
Issue the license and then pray and -- pray for those people. Love those people. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
KEILAR: Real quick, Jeffrey, is the last that we've heard of this issue? I suspect not.
TOOBIN: You know, it's not the last we've heard of this. You know, one thing to keep in mind is it's a big country. We have exactly one county clerk who is complaining. I think that shows the incredibly broad acceptance of same-sex marriage in a big herd.
KEILAR: Jeffrey, Sunny and Don, thanks, guys.
And Don is going to be back here shortly in just a few hours on "CNN TONIGHT" at 10:00 Eastern.
Thank you so much for watching. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's back tomorrow.
And "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.