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President May Announce A New Chairman Of The Federal Reserve; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell Is Brushing Off Some Of The Harsh Criticism From President Trump; Democratic Mega Donor And Billionaire Environmentalist Tom Steyer, Explaining Why He Is Pushing For Impeachment; Bill O'reilly Reportedly Paid Out In A Sexual Harassment Claim Before Signing A New Multi-Million Dollar Contract with FOX News; Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: In an op-ed in "USA Today," the President writes, "the optimism has returned. The sun is once again rising over America. But our economy cannot take off like it should unless we transform our outdated, complex, and burdensome tax code, and that is exactly what we are proposing to do," end quote.

Let's bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

So Boris, is the President confident that he can get this passed?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, Fred. He actually believes that Congress could get this done before the end of 2017. The President, as you said, spending his 84th day at a property that bears his name. He just returned from Trump national golf course in Sterling, Virginia.

Tax reform is the all-out press by the White House right now, as you mention that op-ed he had in "USA Today." A congressional source actually told CNN that the President this afternoon is going to be holding a call with Republicans in the House to discuss how to move forward with tax reform.

On Tuesday, he is set to meet with Republicans from the Senate. They are set to hold lunch. And that might provide some drama because as you know, Fred, the President has a bit of an open feud with several Republican senators, including John McCain, Bob Corker, and Jeff Flake. So their interactions are ripe for analysis.

Beyond that, Fred, the President was on FOX News this morning talking about how tax reform might look, especially after Paul Ryan talked about the potential for there to be a fourth tax bracket so that high- income earners would not be receiving the benefit of these tax cuts, and that those resources would go to the middle class. Listen to more of what the President said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The middle class has really not done very well over the last long period of time. And so when Paul mentions maybe one more category, which I would rather not have, it may not happen, but the only reason I would have -- and he does say this, he was very plain on what he said, is if for any reason I feel the middle class is not being properly taken care of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: And we also might get another bit of economic related news this week, Fred. The President may announce a new chairman of the Federal Reserve. As you know, he has been interviewing candidates for some time. This week, he said that all five candidates are still in the running for the position. Though he did seem to focus on three of them, Jerome Pile, the governor of the fed, as well as John Taylor of Stanford University, and one candidate who had a bit to say about it on the campaign trail, but now he seems to have a shift in attitude about is the current chairwoman of the federal reserve, Janet Yellen. So a lot on the President's plate right now. A lot to focus on this week, Fred.

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

U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is brushing off some of the harsh criticism from President Trump and addressing some of the fighting within the Republican Party. Here's what McConnell said earlier on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the end of the day, there is very open tension between you and your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill and the President. And the President himself was asked just this weekend about his own attacks on fellow Republicans. And he said he thinks those attacks are helpful because they get people to do what they are supposed to be doing. You have been on the receiving end of several of those attacks. Do they help you get legislation through the Senate, sir?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Look, I'm not particularly concerned about all of this. What we are interested in is achieving an agenda for the American people. And the President's agenda and our agenda are one in the same. We are thrilled to have somebody in the White House who supports what this House and Senate Republican majority has been wanting to have an opportunity to do for a long time. And so I refuse to get diverted off on the various comments that may be made at one time or another. Let's try to accomplish these things for the American people. We think we can do that. We are in the process of that.

BASH: One final question on this. Do you think that - do you trust the President in these negotiations? Do you trust the President as a partner in getting these things done?

MCCONNELL: I do.

BASH: OK. Let's talk about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He declared war on you and the rest of the Republican establishment this week. Take a listen. STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Mitch, I don't

know if you're watching today. I don't know if you are watching. I have been getting calls. It's like before the Ides of March, right. The only question is, and this is just an analogy or a metaphor, whatever you want to call it. They are just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.

BASH: What do you make of Bannon recruiting candidates with the explicit goal, sir, of taking you out as leader?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, this element has been out there for a while. They cost us five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012 by nominating people who couldn't win in November. In order for the President's agenda to advance, we have to be able to elect people who support the agenda. And so these inner party skirmishes are all about whether we can nominate a candidate who can win in November. In 2014 and 2016, we nominated candidates who could actually win elections and we took the Senate in 2014 and kept it in 2016. So these are interparty skirmishes about actually winning elections.

[16:05:33] BASH: They are interparty skirmishes, sir. But they now have what he calls a Brutus who doesn't necessarily care about keeping the seat. They just want to defeat incumbent Republicans who support you.

MCCONNELL: But I think most Republicans want to see us win elections. Because I always remind people that the winners of elections make policy and the losers go home and go into some other line of work. And so we are trying to maintain this majority so we can achieve the goals that the President and ourselves' share. And so these skirmishes will occur in the primaries. They have happened in recent years. The years in which we have nominated people who could win. We took the majorities. And years in which we didn't, we lost. It's all about whether or not we can maintain control and achieve the things that the President and ourselves want to achieve for the American people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, despite the infighting among Republicans and the President, McConnell as that he trusts Trump as the negotiating partner.

Joining me right now, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," Lynn Sweet. Good to see you both.

All right. So Ron, you first. You know, McConnell seemed to, you know, brush off the attacks, you know, calling it interparty skirmishes, not a big deal. So what is the strategy here that Republicans, you know, can take that this is a restart button? It's OK to have these skirmishes and just kind of move on?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think they are in the same position they have really been in from day one where they recognize that they do in fact have overlapping shared interests on a lot of the domestic agenda where President Trump on the affordable care act, on taxes, has largely subcontracted the details to the Republican Congress. And they also realize that they do need to get things done in order to maintain their majority.

And so they are trying their best, I think, and every possible way to look away from all of the aspect of the Trump presidency that are troubling to so many Republicans. It was underscored this week when George W. Bush in a rather remarkable criticism of a successor from the same party essentially accused the President of fomenting racism at home and abandoning American values abroad. You now the last three Presidential nominees, John McCain earlier, and Mitt Romney after Charlottesville essentially making the argument. But Republicans on the Hill understand that whatever they think about President Trump privately, they are bound to him, at least on parts of this agenda. And so this uneasy dance continues with no sign of letting up.

WHITFIELD: So Lynn, this morning, the President, you know, discussed the effect of his tweets. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have friends that say, oh, don't use social media. See, I don't call it tweets. Tweeting is like a typewriter. When I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. I mean, the other day, I put something out. Two seconds later I'm watching your show, it's up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're right. We're watching your twitter feed.

TRUMP: OK. And you know, they are well crafted. I was always a good student. I'm like a person who does well with that kind of thing. And I doubt I would be here if it weren't for social media, to be honest with you. I have a tremendous platform. So when somebody says something about me, I'm able to go bing, bing, bing, and I take care of it. The other way, I would never be able to get the word out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. So Lynn, he says social media is helping him get things done, to what extent?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Massively. He wouldn't be President without the power of his twitter feed amplified by Facebook and that combination. In fact, 2016 will be known as the year that twitter and Facebook helped mint a President. So he likes the idea of directly communicating with the people.

And he likes, I think, this instant gratification. His analogy wasn't quite right. It's not like posting on twitter isn't quite like typing something. Posting on twitter is like having a telephone call answered or having a letter opened right away.

The kick he described is fascinating. You know, you post to twitter and then, boom, a few minutes later, you are going to talk about it. If, as we are doing this segment right now, he posted somebody and it was a newsworthy interest, you would say, Lynn, wait a minute. The President just posted. And that is some kind of the way he was talking. It's almost the thrill of seeing it.

But on a more serious note, he knows he can use his twitter feed to set the agenda, especially in his morning posts, for what the news will be of the day, what people will be talking about, and what will be driving the policy agenda.

[16:10:15] WHITFIELD: So Ron, yes, that tweet, you know, it is Presidential record because, you know, the President has spoken. Whether he is right, you know, whether he is factually incorrect or not, but it also is a window not just into the man, the most, you know, powerful man in the world, but potentially it could be a window into what he can or cannot get done.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think the impact of twitter is much more ambiguous and nuanced than that. Because what he has shown is through twitter, he can drive the news cycle, clearly, as Lynn was saying, and he can drive the conversation around a seemingly endless succession of cultural confrontations and personal feuds. I mean, he can drive a debate about the NFL. He can attack Mika Brzezinski or Meryl Streep or Alec Baldwin or Chuck Schumer or John McCain or the endless list of people he has attacked.

What he hasn't shown though is he can mobilize public opinion on policy. The job of the President is to provide air cover to Congress. And on the repeal of the ACA, they faced enormous public opposition. Today, the polling on the key elements of the tax plan are negative for most Americans, particularly the idea of cutting taxes and raising the deficit.

WHITFIELD: Right, we have that. A CNN poll showing that a majority of those polled oppose the plan. So while he may be able to influence dialogue, yes, he is influencing news coverage, but when it comes to impacting people's lives, getting things done, policy driven, can this President argue that, you know, his form of tweet or conversation is doing something?

BROWNSTEIN: No. No, I think no. I mean, building a case for policy is very different. And it requires a kind of sustained disciplined focus on a clear message, basically about how the changes will improve the lives of average people. And that is not something he has shown himself capable or even willing to do.

It feels to me there's almost like this division of responsibility developing inside the GOP where his job is to precipitate this, as I said, this kind of endless series of culture confrontations and personal feuds that kind of energize his base while he leaves to the executive branch and the Republicans in Congress the job of kind of advancing the traditional Republican agenda of cutting taxes and regulation. He seems to be spinning off on an orbit that is somewhat distinct and immediate from that.

WHITFIELD: All right, which leads many to argue, is that leadership from the White House?

All right. Lynn, Ron, hold tight. Stay with me. We are going to take a short break. Up next, as Republicans face a war within their party, Democrats have

an uphill climb of their own. Details on the DNC's struggle to fund- raise and build a competitive infrastructure ahead of the midterms.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:08] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Democratic donors are used to spending money to support their candidates. Well, now, one of the wealthiest democratic supporters is using his money to create a national TV ad campaign calling for Trump's impeachment. This was Democratic mega donor and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, explaining why he is pushing for impeachment when I spoke with him earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC DONOR: What we are trying to do is give a voice to the American people because I think Democrats and Republicans alike know that this President is in fact a clear and present danger to their health and safety. And so we are trying to give them a chance to go to their representatives and make this case because that's the American people still, their voice is the most powerful thing in our country. And if they speak up, then elected officials have to listen.

WHITFIELD: But on what grounds do you believe Trump should be impeached? It has to be more than a belief of clear and present danger or --

STEYER: That's right.

WHITFIELD: -- or access to nuclear weapons.

STEYER: He has violated his trust to the constitution of the American people. By firing James Comey, he clearly obstructed justice. That is the historical basis for impeaching a President. He has -- the emoluments clause has been broken. The fact of the matter is he has clearly broken his trust with the constitution. The reason that we are calling for it is that it's urgent that it happen now. The fact of the matter is he is putting us at risk on a daily basis, and you can go to legal scholars. He has clearly met the standard for impeachment.

WHITFIELD: Looking into obstruction of justice among the many things that congressional investigations are looking into, the special counsel Robert Mueller also looking into it with his investigations. Why not wait until those investigations are complete?

STEYER: Because it is urgent. Because in fact we are giving this President a new parameter that he not only has to meet the old parameters for being impeached. Now all of the sudden, there's a much lower standard that he is allowed to do things no one else has ever been allowed to do before.

We should not be breaking the constitution to keep in office a President who is putting at risk the safety and health of Americans on a daily basis. I don't understand why we are delaying. In fact, it's urgent right now that we act, and that's what we are asking the American people to stand up and speak for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let me bring back my panel now. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times."

So Ron, you first. Money well-spent, $10 million for a TV ad campaign at the same time many Democrats could use some help at the ballot box.

BROWNSTEIN: Boy, there are not a lot of Democrats who want to contest the 2018 election and whether Donald Trump should be impeached. At best, pretty mature. At worse, counterproductive.

One of the advantages the out party has, the party in the White House has a bit thermal (ph) action is that their voters are usually more enthuse. We have seen evidence of that in the Democratic improvement in a number of these special elections around the country.

But - and you see evidence of that in the fact that the share of voters who strongly disapprove of President Trump's performance is so much higher than the share of strongly approve. Those are kind of enthusiasm advantages for Democrats. There is no way, no easier way to turn that around. I think many Democrats fear, than to essentially allow Republicans to say that Democrats are running this election to negate your vote in 2016 and thus encourage Republicans to come out to protect President Trump.

There may be a debate about this someday depending on what the special counsel concludes. But I don't think most Democrats would want this front and center on the marquee for their arguments in 2018. They want to focus on how the Republican agenda is affecting the financials of average families.

[16:20:56] WHITFIELD: So Lynn, how do you see this hurts or helps Democrats?

SWEET: Well, I see it helps Tom Steyer. One of the reasons he would do something like that, he has been mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate. He sketch his name face out there. It gives him a reason to go. You know, clearly with a Republican House, there is no question that there cannot be an impeachment unless there was some absolutely report out from -- you can't go without some more stuff on the table. So Steyer is saying we can move now. That is not realistic.

Now, it hurts Democrats and that he has, you know, if anyone counted on him for being a donor to a cause or a candidate, we don't know yet if he is going to marshal his money for what he wants to do, the benefit of being super rich is that you don't have to donate to a party. If you want a commercial, you can just make it and buy time for it yourself.

WHITFIELD: OK. And Ron, speaking of rich, President Donald Trump apparently offering

$430 million to assist in the legal fees of campaign or White House staff members. How does this look?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first off, one last point on Tom Steyer, it does though reflect the kind of increasing modern theory of politics because this is something that designed to kind of energize and turn out the Democratic base. And the theory that's more important than kind of reaching swing voters which I think is dangerous in a midterm, but it is the direction we are going. Certainly the theory Donald Trump, you know, ran on in 2016.

Look. Paying the legal fees for people who may have to testify about things that could -- around which you could be legally culpable is a very ominous kind of a notion. I mean, the idea that there would be no -- that people who are going to be testifying about potentially about actions the President has personally taken would feel no obligation based on him paying their legal fees, that I think is something that's going to strike a lot of Americans. I mean, we can, you know, you can talk to former prosecutors on the show, as something that they would raise their eyebrows at, at being I think in many ways an attempt to improperly influence a witness.

WHITFIELD: Lynn?

SWEET: Well, it also depends how this fund would be structured. There have been some thought that it would just be a pool and then the money would be dispersed later. Who would get it, if you have to underscore Ron's point, if you don't know if you are going to get your bill paid or not, that's another reason why people could say your testimony might be tainted. Though the most important thing is to always just tell the truth to a prosecutor because then you are in trouble if you don't.

So there probably is a legal way to structure it. It might be better if there's just a funded separate legal committee for everybody who needs one to fund their lawyers.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will leave it right there.

Lynn Sweet, Ron Brownstein, always good to see you. Thank you.

SWEET: Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, $32 million, that's how much Bill O'Reilly reportedly paid out in a sexual harassment claim before signing a new multi-million dollar contract with FOX News. Gretchen Carlson weighing in exclusively right here on CNN. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:29] WHITFIELD: Former FOX News host Gretchen Carlson who settled a sexual harassment claim with FOX News is speaking out today on the report from "The New York Times" that Bill O'Reilly reportedly paid out $32 million in a sexual harassment claim prior to signing a new multimillion dollar contract with FOX News. Carlson spoke to CNN's Brian Stelter earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FORMER ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: I think it's horrifying and outrageous that any company after dismissing somebody for allegations such as that would not only re-sign a contract but allow that person to come back on the air. It's outrageous, and it's one of the reasons that I wanted to make sure that I chronicled so many other women's stories in my book, because now we are on a movement. We are on a movement to speak up and be heard. And there's no turning back for women in the workplace. Why should women have the American dream taken away from them? We work just as hard as anyone else. And it's time that it stops.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: But FOX said it had cleaned up the culture after your lawsuit and Ailes' ouster, it said is made changes. And yet O'Reilly was renewed right after the settlement. Were they lying about that?

CARLSON: I mean, I think this is the corporate culture, Brian, that we were dealing with before July 6, 2016, in so many ways, in that the way in which, look at Harvey Weinstein and the way the board allowed him to have a contract that allowed him to still sexually harass. He just had to pay a fine if there was even just a case.

This is covering up. This is enablers. This is shutting up the victims. And I think it's absolutely horrifying that we have allowed this to go on for so long in our corporate culture. It's one of the reasons that I'm asking people to join this "BE Fierce" movement to stand up and speak up and say enough is enough.

STELTER: You accepted a big settlement from Fox. Lis Wiehl apparently accepted this $32 million settlement from O'Reilly. Should women accept these payments? Is that part of the problem, Gretchen? I have to ask you.

CARLSON: Well, it's part of the huge problem. Listen, we've decided as a culture there's two ways that we're going to settle sexual harassment allegations. Settlements, that shuts up the victims, and also forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts. That's a secret chamber. That also shuts up the victims.

So we're fooling society into thinking that we don't have a problem with this issue anymore. Why? Because we don't hear about these cases. But why, Brian? It's because the women are shut up into silence. And that is what's been so heartening over the last couple weeks, seeing the Weinstein story develop and so many others, is that women are saying we're not going to be silenced anymore. We are going to be fierce.

It's the whole mission of this book for our young people, Brian, to make sure that this doesn't happen for your daughter, my two kids, and anyone else who's watching out there.

STELTER: And you say that men have a big part of responsibility. You devote a whole chapter in your book to men. Why?

CARLSON: Men who defends because we need to turn men from enablers and bystanders into allies. And so many men out there want a safe work environment for women. That's why it ended up being my longest chapter, Brian. It's just these random jerks we have to try to get rid of. But to try to get rid of the enabler and give the voice also and the courage to a man to stand up for women, can you only imagine how that would change the dynamic within the corporate culture.

It would change it exponentially. And so today, I'm reaching out to men as well to join this be fierce movement. It shouldn't just be on the shoulders of women to fix this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We've got so much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom" but first, meet this week's CNN Hero, Rebecca Constantino.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REBECCA CONSTANTINO, CNN HERO (voice-over): For a child, the library can be a magical place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm officially the most awesome girl in the world.

CONSTANTINO: It can transform you academically, but it can also nurture you emotionally.

What people don't realize is that school libraries are sometimes not funded at all. We provide libraries for underserved communities and schools.

Our whole goal is to spread literacy and the benefits of literacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, to see how Rebecca and her team transform a library, go to cnnheroes.com. We'll be right back.

[04:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Puerto Ricans are still struggling more than a month after Hurricane Maria pummeled the U.S. territory. This is what people are living with right now. Only 20 percent of the power has been restored to the island. Just over half of the cell towers are operational, and 72 percent of Puerto Rico's water and sewage customers have service.

Joining us now from San Juan is our CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval. So Polo, give us an idea of what people are up against there.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the hardest times after these disasters are often in the weeks and months following the actual event and that's what we've seen all throughout the island recently and mainly here in (INAUDIBLE). It's a community just west of San Juan, Puerto Rico where you can see some of the live pictures.

You may be able to see the seemingly endless row of what appears to be trash. Those are at one point people's belongings. Those were their memories, their livelihoods there. Basically, they sit soggy and on a sidewalk here until they're picked up. And today, there was some significant progress in at least this community that we spent the day in which our crews were out in full force basically clearing out all this debris.

They did have officials with the (INAUDIBLE) hired by the Army Corps of Engineers who were essentially clearing out any potentially toxic materials because that is a very real concern there. They want to make sure there is no toxic materials that make their way up there. But yes, this is a significant day of progress for people in at least this neighborhood, Fred.

These piles have been growing, these debris (INAUDIBLE) rodents, mosquitoes, you name it. So, this is something that officials and really people here on the ground have been asking for now for weeks. And today, finally, some answers (ph) here coming their way as some of this begins to be cleared up as this island continues to struggle to recover.

WHITFIELD: So Polo, when there was a build-up of waste, of trash, sometimes hazardous, you know, materials, of course, the biggest concern is it makes people sick. It spreads viruses and illnesses. How is that being combated or what is being done to help people stay well in these kind of conditions?

SANDOVAL: Well, clearing up this debris that's obviously going to be job number one here. The fastest, you know, the faster that they can get rid of these garbage and if they're able to eliminate at least part of that risk because these debris piles that bring rodents and mosquitoes -- rodent and mosquitoes then breed disease, and that is of course the last thing that this island needs right now as it struggles to recover.

But the other being challenged too is what to do with so much garbage. And think about this, I spoke to a local environmentalist here that estimates that roughly 8,500 tons of garbage are produced by Puerto Ricans on a daily basis. That is before Maria so, look at all the debris that is throughout this island.

As you can imagine, all of this is certainly going to overwhelm officials here and the waste management system, creating that health concern that you just described.

[04:40:00] And that said, but also pollution. There are many chemicals, there are many electronics in these piles and officials here are working very hard to kind of make sure that as much that gets pulled out and disposed off appropriately before it ends up in some of the landfills that are already full to the brim.

WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Saudi Arabia today, praising the fighters who drove ISIS out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. His praise comes just days after U.S.-backed militias say they completely liberated the city of Raqqah from ISIS militants, but Tillerson also had this warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETAR OF STATE: Shortly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and Daesh that have now been liberated. Allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: You heard from our Ben Wedeman earlier, there are no Iranian militias. Meantime, CNN's Arwa Damon takes us to Raqqah, Syria, and shows us what's left there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to even find traces of the life that was or even imagine what these streets looked like when they were full of people with children laughing and playing. Rojda Falat is one of the battle commanders here.

It was a 15-day battle just to try to retake this particular square, and every single rooftop, she was saying, was lined with snipers. This was one of the main squares where ISIS would carry out their public beheadings and executions, and they would place the heads of their victims on these spikes as a gruesome reminder to others of what their fate might be should they decide to defy ISIS rule.

It is also where ISIS sold its Yazidi captives into sexual slavery. For the female fighting force of the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the battle for Raqqah was deeply personal. They vowed that Raqqa would be liberated at the hands of women.

As we walk past some of Rojda's fighters, she says seeing them makes her happy, proud. Women established their bravery here, she says. It taught them their value beyond their value within the household. She tells us that she herself joined the fight against ISIS around three years ago.

The final battles, she was just saying, were taking place in this entire area between the stadium that's right there and then the square that's behind us and the hospital, and she was saying that ISIS fighters had actually underground dug tunnel systems between those three locations. Now, we can't go and see them because they still might have left explosive devices inside them.

Against the backdrop of the city's ruins, the female fighting force within the SDF celebrated. Moments of victory, reunions, but rebuilding, it may be even tougher than the battle itself. Commanders tell us there are still small pockets of ISIS fighters, and clearing the city of explosives will take at least three months. And for those who called Raqqah home, there is not much left to return to.

Rojda held up the SDF flag at this very square the day that SDF took control of it. She says she did it in memory of those who died in a battle whose cost is not yet fully known. Arwa Damon, CNN, Raqqah, Syria.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.

[04:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, this just in to CNN. As much as $2 million was raised last night to help hurricane relief efforts at the One America concert, that's according to a spokesperson from former President George H.W. Bush. A final figure will be released tomorrow. Of course, one of the more remarkable moments from last night was five former presidents on stage. CNN's Kaylee Hartung has more from College Station in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Five former living presidents, working together to praise the American spirit.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: All of us on this stage here tonight could not be prouder of the response of Americans.

HARTUNG: And ask for continued support for hurricane recovery efforts.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: There is still work to be done in Texas and in Dlorida. And our friends in Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands have only begun to dig their way out of what could be still a calamitous disaster, but can be a new beginning.

HARTUNG: Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama join George H.W. Bush at Texas A&M University, home to his presidential library for a benefit concert.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I speak for the folks right here when I say we really admire and love George H.W. Bush.

(CROWD CHEERING)

HARTUNG: An evening originally planned to be the 20th anniversary celebration of Bush 41's library, transformed into an opportunity for the former presidents to help hurricane victims.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Let's all work again and make America still a greater

[04:50:00] volunteer nation.

HARTUNG: After Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in September, the five former presidents led by the Bushes created the One America Appeal charity. As hurricane season continued, so did the campaign's outreach, to Florida and the Caribbean. To date they've raised more than $30 million from over 80,000 donors. The work of the former presidents was praised as tremendous by President Trump in a two- minute video message that was welcomed with applause.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the aftermath of these terrible storms, the American people have done what we do best. We came together. We helped one another and through it all we remained resilient.

HARTUNG: It's unclear if the current president was invited to attend. A White House official says Trump was honored to be given an opportunity to participate relief and recovery efforts.

LADY GAGA, MUSICIAN: Thank you so much for coming together and putting all your differences aside. It is so incredible.

HARTUNG: Among musical guests, Lady Gaga, who announced a partnership with One America Appeal to create a mental health program for hurricane victims.

GAGA: So the response to these disasters must encompass the survivor's mental and emotional needs as well as their physical well being.

HARTUNG: A historic night in response to devastation and inspiration of historic proportions. In College Station, Texas, Kaylee Hartung, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.

[04:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The militia movement isn't new to the U.S. but the shifting political landscape is shining a light on the collection of extremist groups that see the U.S. Constitution as being under threat and are prepared to fight what they call big government. In this week's "This Is Life with Lisa Ling" she embeds with a heavily armed militia deep in the Arizona desert preparing for foreign and domestic threats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA LING, HOST, CNN THIS IS LIFE: What boomer wants is training for any sort of threat that he can pass along to his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So now it's all back together and we take our towels.

LING: If he joins, he'll be expected to attend as many militia gatherings as he can and be a committed member of their brotherhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the rules again when you see a gun? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't touch it, leave the room, tell an adult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.

LING: This weekend it begins, with his first intensive training session. Then he and the militia will have 90 days to size each other up before his membership is confirmed with a vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For some reason I'm a little nervous. It took about six months of contemplation, you know, is this something I really wanted to get into and I'm still not sure if it is or not but that's what this weekend is about for me, is taking that next step to see if it is.

LING: He's placed a lot of measured expectations on the event. But will this new crowd be more extreme than he bargained for?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, Lisa Ling now joining us. So Lisa, who is the enemy that he and the family are preparing for?

LING: Well, they're concerned that there are may be government overreach and so if they feel there is, they want to be prepared. They also say that they want to also be prepared in case there are natural disasters or threats to their communities. And the thing that surprised me the most, you know, we embedded with the Southern Arizona Militia only days after the presidential election and I assumed that because Donald Trump was the victor they might not feel the need to be as vigilant as they are.

But in fact, when I asked the head of that militia whether they were kind of going to a kind of lay back a little bit they said, no, we still have to be as prepared as ever and this militia trains every single weekend.

WHITFIELD: Does it appear the popularity of these groups is growing?

LING: Well, it certainly grew a great deal during President Obama's presidency because one of the main issues for militias is protecting their second amendment rights and during President Obama's tenure there was this assumption that regulations were going to -- greater regulations were going to be imposed. Under the Trump administration it seems that the movement is still continuing to grow because in the case of the militia that we spent time with, they said that politics don't really play into their preparedness.

WHITFIELD: What was most enlightening when you spent time with them?

LING: The thing that was most enlightening, Fred, is I was pretty concerned when I went to embed with them because we have very different values and very different issues, but after talking to the guys and spending a weekend with them, we actually found common ground, you know.

These guys are defiant about protecting their second amendment rights. I am defiant about protecting my first amendment rights and my reproductive rights. And so, I think that both of us sort of felt the concern about government overreach and that was something that was enlightening for me to have found common ground with these men.

WHITFIELD: But going about it in a different way in which to protect those rights.

LING: Yes, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: All right, Lisa Ling. Thanks so much. All right, catch tonight's episode of "This Is Life" 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

All right, thanks so much for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. So much more straight ahead in the "Newsroom" with Pamela Brown.

[05:07:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour now. I'm Pamela Brown in New York in this week for Ana Cabrera.