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Recount in Florida; Trump Claims on Florida Ballots; Wildfires Scorch California; Winds Feed Wildfires; Overreach Clouds Strategy. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

California in flame. At least 31 have died as fires ravaged both northern and southern areas of the state. We'll have live updates on what the governor calls the new abnormal.

Plus, the president is out of the public eye today, but tweeting rave reviews of his weekend trip to France. He skipped an even honoring America's World War I heroes and was lectured by the French president about nationalism.

And it's recount week in Florida and it opens with a nasty tone. Three state-wide races are impacted. The Senate result will shape the balance of power here in the new Congress.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: We want free and fair elections. We want people to participate, but we don't want any fraud. We need to know exactly what happened here.

REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: There is no evidence of fraud. Here's what there is evidence of. There is evidence of eight year of Rick Scott as the governor of Florida trying to manipulate the outcome of elections.


KING: And we begin there with the Florida recounts and the president's call to stop everything, he says, go back to the election night count. This from the presidential Twitter account 7:40 a.m. here in the East. New ballots showed up out of nowhere and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible. Ballots massively infected. Must go with election night.

That's what the president of the United States says. Florida election monitors actually there say they have zero evidence of fraught. Quote, our staff has not seen any evidence of criminal activity, the Florida secretary of state's office said yesterday, and reiterated again today. Since Tuesday, Republicans have complained some key county election officials are, in their words, flouting the law, they say missing reporting deadlines, those Republicans have sued repeatedly to enforce the rules. Now the Republican president wants to put the law aside, skip the recount.

Those recounts underway right now in the contest for Senate, governor and state agriculture commissioner. The first deadline to finish a machine recount is Thursday. The Palm Beach County election supervisor though says her count won't be finished by then. She says that's impossible.

Another legal computation. Today the Republican Senate candidate, that's the state's governor, Rick Scott, in court after asking state police to impound voting machines and ballots when not in use. He says the process can't be trusted.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We know that our laws are set up to prevent fraud, OK? We know that, you know, they didn't let in party officials to observe. We know that they didn't -- there was no transparency. They're supposed to tell us where all this was coming from, when -- how many ballots, all these things. We know mysteriously 93,000 new ballots showed up after Election Day. We know that Brenda Snipes has said that she took illegal ballots and put them in with legal ballots. She admitted that. We know that they continue to try to count after the deadline.


KING: CNN's Ryan Nobles on the ground for us in Tallahassee.

Ryan, a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of spin. What are the facts?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, when you take a look at the fact that we have 8.5 million votes cast in the state of Florida and there are 67 counties that are now undergoing this massive recount, there's a lot to unpack here in the sunshine state.

When the president talked about no need for a recount, that simply flies in the face of the reality of Florida law. There is an automatic recount if this vote is within a half a percentage point and that is the case with these three big races. But even though those margins are tight, infinitesimally small in the context of 8.5 million votes, it is still a relatively wide margin in terms of what it takes to win in a recount. Even the Senate race with 12,000 votes between the Republican Governor Rick Scott against the incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, 12,000 votes is a lot to overcome in a recount. In fact, there's no example, no precedent of that ever happening in American politics. The closest example would be the Washington governor's race and that was around 2,000 votes.

So both Republicans and Democrats are pretty clear-eyed about what is at stake here. Everyone believes a recount should go forward, but there aren't too many people that you can find that genuinely believe that at the end of this recount we're going to see a different thing than what we saw on election night, at least in the Senate and governor's race. Yet Democrats are convinced the recount must go forward because every voice should be heard, every vote should be counted and those results should reflect that.

So, John, a lot of posturing here in Florida over the next couple of days. And at this point the people of Florida still don't know who their next senator and next governor will be.

KING: Hang in there, Ryan. Do the math. Don't listen to the spin. We'll be in touch throughout the next few days.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Eliana Johnson with "Politico," Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," Tarini Parti with "BuzzFeed" and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

[12:05:01] Let's just start with the president. The state law says recount. The state law says recount. The president of the United States says forget the law? Great.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That's -- he's off base with that, obviously. And elections aren't held the way they used to be held. It's not all election night anymore. He says, let's go back to election night. Well, that would be really unfair going back to election nights because ballots were still continuing to come in.

It's really unfortunate, I think, one that Florida still has these problems in its ballot counting. It's a huge state. A lot of people vote this time but they still should be able to get this under control. But for, you know, these accusations of fixed elections and trying to steal the vote, you know, it just undermines people's credibility further in our electoral process and really probably doesn't need to be done.

As Ryan was saying, you know, this is a big -- this is a big difference. The Republicans are probably going to still win these races, you know, and they're sort of tarnishing themselves and the process, I think.

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, that's what was almost humorous to me about the president jumping in on this, even from a purely self-interested perspective, if there was a real fear that Democrats were to pull ahead here, it seems very unlikely. Republicans are ahead in these races. Democrats are unlikely to prevail in a recount. There's no need for the president to engage in this sort of rhetoric or behavior here, which makes it truly puzzling as to why he is coming in and making these sort of allegations. They only serve to hurt the Republican candidates who, when we go through this recount, are likely to prevail. Ron DeSantis in the governor's race and Rick Scott in the Senate race.

KING: And to, again, undermine, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a Trump critic, the president of the United States is constantly undermining trust and faith in institutions. MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": It is kind of the inverse of what you would expect from a traditional president who would say, I know emotions are very hot right now. We need to let the process play out. You know, if there are improprieties, those will be discovered and we'll deal with them in due course.

But to Eliana's point, it raises another question, Trump aside, which is, it seems like they could take the high road. Is there some legal reason why they're not taking the high road? Is there some procedural reason why they want to get on the record expressing concerns about whatever in case they need that card to pull later in court. Again, all that seems like contingency work through because by all accounts this is heading to where everyone thinks it's heading regardless of --

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": I think another -- another point that makes the president's comments odd is that he likes to talk about the military and everything he's done to strengthen the military. And, you know, military officials are overseas right now. Their ballots won't be counted until this week. so when he talks about only Election Day ballots being counted, that would just disenfranchise that whole section of voters he likes to talk about. So there's a clear contradiction in his own messaging as well.

KING: Think before you tweet. Think before you tweet is part of it.

And so the Democrats -- even Andrew Gillum on election night, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor, conceded. And then he saw the margins did get a little bit closer. And then the recount started. And then he faced pressure from progressive groups saying, hey, hey, wait a minute, let's, you know, have a recount. And then he came within the law, so the law calls for it anyway.

But listen to Andrew Gillum, who still says, I'm probably going to lose here, but he listens to the complains about, is there fraud, is there crooked activity from the Republicans, and he says, what's going on here?


ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: If you wonder why the president of the United States, the junior senator of the United States, Mr. Rubio, the sitting governor of the state of Florida are fighting like you know what to stop a vote count, that ought to tell you something.


KING: Now, it sounds almost like he is sliding towards the -- as opposed to, let's just count every vote. I'm probably still going to lose, but let's finish the process. That's the way it should work. Now it sounds like he's sliding toward adding some suspicion.

TALEV: To the conspiracy theory, right.

KING: Yes.


JOHNSON: Well, look, not everything has been kosher in Florida.

KING: Right.

JOHNSON: The Broward County election commissioner at one point was refusing to say how many ballots were left to count. That is not by the books. And so, you know, Gillum is not right there and there is a case to be made that not everything has gone according to the law in Florida. And this woman in Broward County has been censured before. But the fact that -- the fact that -- or the idea that not all the votes will be counted or have been counted or that there's a broader problem is incorrect.

KING: Right. There's a -- there's a compelling case for incompetence and some would say even arrogance in Broward County in particular. Nobody -- and, again, Rick Scott's state police says they've seen no evidence, no credible allegation of cheating. And that's the key test here.

This is my favorite moment of this discussion. Listen here. The president of the United States should listen here. This is Katherine Harris. She was the secretary of state of Florida back in 2000. She became a pretty polarizing national figure. Democrats didn't like her then. Listen to Katherine Harris now telling the president and all of us, calm down.

[12:10:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHERINE HARRIS, FORMER FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: This isn't a constitutional crisis. It's a close race. I didn't know another recount would make me look good. So it's, you know, it's unfortunate, but Florida has an electorate that -- that is very close in numbers. And, consequently, the same counties are in the same spot again. We have laws that will address that. It just is a matter of the elected officials administering those laws honorably and correctly.


KING: I know a polarizing figure, but there's a voice of reason in the middle of this and someone who speaks from experience and maybe she realized she might have done things a little bit differently. But she's just telling everybody, just let them count. Everybody calm down. What's wrong with that?

HULSE: Right. And I think -- I don't know that I've ever said this before, Katherine Harris was right when she said that. But the -- I think it's also -- but you're also seeing this in Arizona where by all accounts, you know, the counting was going appropriately and the Democratic candidate for Senate is probably going to win. So this is a new strategy, I think, that's sort of alarming that if something's going on in the election, you need to finish up the balloting. It gets confusing that everybody just starts to say, hey, it's fraud.

TALEV: Yes. HULSE: They're steeling the election. That's a really, really bad trend and hopefully we can get past this before 2020.

KING: Right. And to your point, contrast it. A lot of national Republicans have been yelling at Arizona Republicans saying start screaming. And the governor out there, and even the Senate candidate out there, who the Republican Senate candidate has gone from leading on election night to now trailing. They're saying, this is how it goes.


KING: This is how they count votes. Let's see what happens. We'll -- talk to us when it's done. A very different process.

I just want to make -- to the point Ryan Nobles made, this is why I wonder why the Republicans are screaming so loudly, why are they suing in so many place? Recount reality here. Look at this. 2000 to 2015 data on statewide recounts. We haven't had one in Florida since 2000. But the average margin, 282 votes. The largest margin overturned, or flipped if you will, 2,200 votes.

Now, Florida's bigger than Washington state. That's Washington state. But 2,200 votes. It's inconceivable, Democrats and Republicans who have done this, that 12,000 plus votes are going to flip in a recount, which is why they ask, why are Republicans screaming fraud and suing? Why don't they just say, we're going to watch. We're going to make sure we have observers in the room. No tricks. But let's just -- let's finish.

HULSE: Well, they are worried about this undercount and the Democrats in Broward County. I think the Democrats want to get to a hand recount --

KING: Right.

HULSE: Where they can then get a look at some of these ballots and see if they were marked.

KING: That's something else.

HULSE: And that's probably their hope. You know, a machine recount is not going to make up these kind of (INAUDIBLE).

TALEV: Well, we spent all these months talking about the 400 pound guy in the basement and election hacking and it turns out in this race the much more real concern is human error in the same states that always come into play. And it is, I guess, if you're putting a silver lining on it, it's a good reminder before we head into 2020 that every vote counts, that some of these systems still need work and that a voice of reason from leadership is probably better than everyone screaming fraud.

KING: And maybe, when Florida gets a new governor in January, instead of not doing anything about Broward County for eight years and then complaining about it when you're on the Senate ballot, maybe the next governor, Democrat or Republican, will actually deal with them. And if they need to be sanctioned or called out in public, change of behavior, maybe they'll actually worry about elections before the election instead of after the election.

Up next, we go to the California wildfires, where one official worries that with more than 200 people missing, the death toll could well rise.


[12:17:31] KING: Welcome back.

In California, at least 31 people are dead, more than 200 missing, as wildfires rip through the state. In just four days, more than 310 square miles have been burned. That's larger than all five boroughs of New York. It's forced more than 300,000 people to evacuate. In the north, the camp fire is now the most destructive in California history. Twenty-nine of the deaths are there in Butte County alone. The county sheriff spoke with CNN earlier about that sad death toll.


KORY HONEA, SHERIFF-CORONER, BUTTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: I'm very concerned about the number of people that we still have unaccounted for. I'm hopeful, given what we have dealt with so far with casualties as -- resulting from this fire, I have concerns that that -- that that count will rise.


KING: Concerns that count will rise. Officials say the camp fire 25 percent contained. But in its path of destruction, one town was decimated. That's Paradise, home to more than 25,000 people.

And CNN's Dan Simon is right there live on the ground now.

Dan, tell us, what are the teams still facing there?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's just overwhelming for everybody. I mean even the firefighters will tell you that it's just beyond belief. I mean nobody expected to see a whole town go up in flames. I mean that's what we're dealing with here in Paradise.

You can this subdivision, it's completely levelled. This is what you see all throughout Paradise. We're talking about 31 square miles and every inch of the town has been impacted.

And it's going to be weeks, John, before residents are allowed back in there. And that's just to go through the rubble and see if they can find anything that they might be able to salvage. I mean who knows when people will be living here again. This community is totally paralyzed. We're talking about 26,000 people.

And the infrastructure is destroyed. And we're not just talking about homes, of course, it's businesses, it's restaurants, it's hotels. You name it, John, it's just -- it's just really unbelievable. KING: And, Dan, from where you are now, obviously that town has been

decimated. Where is the fire?

SIMON: Well, fortunately, the fire is really in the hills. So it's not threatening any populated areas at the moment. Crews did an excellent job building containment lines. They were concerned about the nearby community of Chico. And right ow things appear to be good there. And so the containment number has gone up. It's actually 25 percent. And so the good news there is that, you know, things are looking better on that end. And also the winds have died down.

[12:20:02] But the bad news is, is that things remain -- things remain dry and there's no rain in the forecast. So the danger is going to persist for this community and those close to it.

KING: Dan Simon. It's just incredible just watching you standing there, seeing the destruction behind you.

Dan, thanks for the reporting there.

Meanwhile, in the south, the Woolsey fire. The latest report, 20 percent contained.

CNN's Scott McLean is live in Malibu, California.

Scott, what's the biggest concern where you are today?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Undoubtedly the wind, John. You can see here in Malibu, in this part, just how much damage the wind has done already. It tore through here fast. It tore through here hot. This house has been reduced to absolute rubble. It's hard to even recognize what we're looking for. The house next door is burned right down to the bottom. Same with the house beyond it as well.

One person just came up to me. Her house was destroyed. She lives not far from here. And she said a lot of people don't realize that there is still fire because when you drive around, you don't see any active flame. You see a little bit of smoke. But beyond that, there's not much. She said, you can see the fire at night and there are a lot of people who are staying behind in their homes despite the fact that we are in a mandatory evacuation order to try to fight off those flame.

Some evacuation orders have been lifted, but at least in this area they are still concerned that that wind will pick up again, as it is starting to already, and some of those small, smoldering areas, some of those small fires, will turn into bigger ones.


KING: Scott McLean on the ground in Malibu. Scott appreciating that reporting as well.

High winds now feeding an extreme fire danger. More than 21 million people -- 21 million people under a red flag warning. Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta to lay this out for us. Jennifer, 21 million people. What's the outlook?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's a lot of people. The winds are going to continue to be strong. And even though maybe you step outside and you don't feel the very strong winds, it doesn't mean they are gone forever. They could pick up at any moment. It's very volatile in southern California, especially with the main threats being the very strong winds, very low humidity and that dry air that's fueling the fire.

So here are the two main fires. The camp fire, 113,000 acres burned, only 25 percent contained. The Woolsey fire, 91,000 acres burned, only 20 percent contained. Still burning. And here's the forecast. We have those strong Santa Ana winds, those offshore winds that are going to continue. Windy conditions. No rain in the forecast. By the time we get into Tuesday evening, the winds should relax a little bit, but it will still be breezy and still enough to spread those fires.

So the fire alerts right now, basically the red flag warnings just in southern California, including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego. And around San Diego, that's where the strongest winds are going to be. The 25 to 30 miles per hour winds with gusting even more. And then, John, as you get into those higher elevations, into the hills, the ridgetops, that's where we're seeing those winds gust to almost hurricane force winds, spreading these wildfires so rapidly.

KING: Jennifer Gray, appreciate that.

Anyone in the area should keep checking in with us and local officials. For ways you can help those affected by the California wildfires, you can go to cnn/impact.

Up next, back to politics. Democrat begin unveiling, and keep unveiling, their to-do list when they take power in January. One Democrat says, yes, celebration, but maybe also time to worry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I worried? Yes, I'm always worried. I'm a Democrat. I mean we're proverbial bed wetters. So, yes, I'm afraid of overreach.



[12:28:08] KING: Welcome back.

One week after the midterm election, Democrats are unveiling an ever growing list of priorities for the upcoming Congress. Incoming committee chairs, detailing their plans for investigations, subpoenas into everything from Robert Mueller's Russia probe to the president's campaign finance practices.

President Trump tweeting today that this amounts, in his view, to presidential harassment. The president suggests, no evidence for this, that it's tanking the markets.

But listen to Congresswoman Nita Lowey here, on Axios on HBO who says, with a little bit of spirit, the view's nice up here.


REP. NITA LOWEY (D), RANKING MEMBER, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: The funnest thing is to win. And we have our boxing gloves on and we're going to fight for our priorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 'u are ready to rumble?

LOWEY: I'm ready. And so is Nancy.


KING: Always good to hear Mike Allen (ph) say "ready to rumble."

There are still nearly two months to go before the Democrats take back control of the House. Now, that's a long time, especially in the age of President Trump.

Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell telling "The New York Times," Democrats better be careful and prioritize. Quote, the message is really, don't chase every ball that he throws. We have to show the American people that there's a purpose behind everything that we do and it's just -- not just to get a pound of flesh. That's hard, to that point, to tell Democrats after this election to calm down and to prioritize.

But to the point that two months is a lot of time, are the Democrats -- do they have somebody saying, don't rush out and promise now because we're not really quite sure what the terrain is going to look like in January?

[12:29:39] PARTI: I think that the concern of overarch is something that a lot of Democrats are talking about. But, at the same time, the president has given Democrats a clear way in by firing Jeff Sessions. I think that, in talking about that, they can clearly go in with various different avenues in terms of protecting Mueller, you know, especially with the president also appointing Whitaker as acting AG. That leads to a lot of questions.