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Deadly Camp Fire Rages; President Trump Visits California; Trump Answers Mueller's Questions in the Russian Election Meddling Probe; Trump Legal Team Takes Issue with Some Mueller Questions; Democrats Split on Choice for House Speaker; Fudge Considers Challenging Pelosi for House Speaker; Manual Recount Results Must Be Turned in Sunday At Noon; CNN Hero: Breaking The Cycle of Violence. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired November 17, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right, hello, everyone and thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The number of those unaccounted for in the Camp Fire burning in Northern California has skyrocketed. More than 1,000 people are missing; 74 people are dead as a result of wildfires burning across the state. The Camp Fire is now the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. As families take shelter in makeshift pop-up cities, like you see here, in parking lots we're hearing heart- wrenching stories from people who say they barely made it out alive. Including a woman in Paradise, the city of Paradise, who escaped in a burning ambulance after just delivering her baby girl.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

HEATHER ROEBUCK, PATIENT: I said good-bye to my husband and told him to tell our kids that I loved them and I was sorry. I'm sorry I wouldn't be there. It was very, very hard.

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: And soon President Trump is putting politics aside perhaps to tour the devastation with California's governor and governor-elect. Trump expressing his shock at the damage before leaving the White House earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a shame. It's a shame that many more people are missing than anyone even thought possible and I want to be with the firefighters, and FEMA and first responders.

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: The Camp Fire has now burned 148,000 acres, about the size of the city of Chicago. More than 9,000 homes have burned to the ground. CAL FIRE says it is now - that fire is now 55 percent contained. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Chico, where hundreds of displaced families are trying to figure out what to do next. And those pop up cities right behind you. Folks are trying to do what they can with what little they have left.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Fred, we're about ten minutes from Paradise, to give you a sense of place. Inside one of these tents I met three generations of a family; a woman, her daughter and two granddaughters. The matriarch of this family with her 3-year-old granddaughter by her side told me she didn't want to share their harrowing experience of escaping the fire in Paradise because she's still trying to shield that three-year-old from the harsh reality that this family is facing.

She's told her they're here in this parking lot on a camping adventure, that they can play dress up every day that being with the clothes that they find in donation piles because those are now the only clothes that they have to their name. Fred, you just gave the numbers that qualify the Camp Fire is the deadliest and most destructive in California's history. Here, we try to put faces to those numbers.

Here in this what has become a pop-up tent city of sorts, we have found such a broad range of people, but people who all share a similar experience of escaping absolute horror outside their doors. Many people here are here because they don't have vehicles to get them to the next point. Volunteers have done so much to help people survive in these conditions with nothing more than a tent and a few belongings they were able to escape with -- with them.

The smoke from the camp fire lingers and survivors on the ground face a bleak picture. This makeshift campsite in a Wal-Mart parking lot is near the remnants of the town of Paradise. Many have lost everything. These survivors are just trying to catch their breath in the smoky air looking for answers to the question, what's next?

ANNA GOODNIGHT, CAMP FIRE SURVIVOR: Did it burn down or didn't it burn down? We just don't know and it's hard to try to figure out your game plan when you don't know your game plan.

HARTUNG: Anna Goodnight and her husband William rushed out of their home. They were only able to grab medication and some important documents.

GOODNIGHT: We sawing everything burn down as we were leaving off the hill. That was scary enough.

HARTUNG: They have no idea if their home is still standing. They are just glad they made it out alive.

GOODNIGHT: I hope there is some closure for the families that have lost family because we've been hearing so many horror stories. But I'm sure it's going to get worse before it gets better.

KRYSTAL STIRRUP, MOTHER OF FOUR AND CAMP FIRE SURVIVOR: We're living. There's a lot of people didn't make it.

HARTUNG: Krystal Stirrup survived Hurricanes Andrew and Erma in Florida. She and her four your children were planning to make Paradise their new home. This was the start of the next chapter of your life, putting a down payment on an apartment in Paradise.

STIRRUP: Yes, I thought it was going you know, we were all happy, excited when they had actually called us and told us to come next week was supposed to be the time we were to come in but everything is gone and I don't know what's the next step. I'm just winging it.

HARTUNG: Despite facing her long road to recovery, Krystal has been visiting the people at the camp offering to help however she can.

[12:05:00]

STIRRUP: I can't do anything but one day at a time. You know, it's out of my hands. Stay praying. Stay asking the Lord to cover us or just cover them. Make sure they have a safe place to land in all of the situations.

HARTUNG: The number of missing -- people are wondering why the number of missing people continues to skyrocket. Fred, we're now looking at a list of more than 1,000 names and authorities say it's very difficult for them to pinpoint the number of people missing because so many people have been displaced. More than 50,000 people have been evacuated in the path of the Camp Fire. So authorities have combed through 911 calls and incident reports that have been filed since that fire broke out and that has gotten them to this number.

But they caution, some of these people could have evacuated, ended up in areas where cell phone service is unreliable. Others could have evacuated, not reached out to family members and they simply don't know that someone is looking for them. But I asked Anna Goodnight, who you just heard me speak with in that piece, I asked her as a resident of Paradise for 10 years if she had looked at that list and she told me she was afraid to because she said she was afraid that she would see names she knew on it. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much. So one of the toughest tasks authorities are now facing is recovering and identifying victims. Let's bring in now Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. Sheriff Honea, more than 1,000 people missing. So explain to us how you are trying to identify people, remains, victims or even find any of the people who are reported missing.

KORY HONEA, BUTTE COUNTY SHERIFF: Well, it's an unprecedented task, in many respects it's overwhelming. Obviously my department doesn't normally have the capacity to take on something like this which is why we called in resources from all throughout California to assist us. We've had to actually build an operation and a process to do this. The list of unaccounted for individuals that you referenced a moment ago is part of that process. And as we've said, that is raw data that we're collecting from phone calls, e-mails, and our 911 system that was collecting data when the fire first started.

It's not perfect data but our thought process is that it's better to get that information out to help start getting people accounted for so rather

than wait for perfection, we're trying to get some progress going. In terms of some of the other issues with regard to identifying human remains and that kind of thing, we have search teams that are out there. We're recovering those. We're working with the (inaudible) county coroner's office and we're hoping to get some identification made and the notifications to those family members.

WHITFIELD: And Sheriff Honea, this is incredibly overwhelming. I mean, no one can really prepare for something as widespread and devastating as this. When we talk to first responders, I mean so many have lost everything themselves and they're trying to address the needs of other people they've come across who have lost everything. So how are you and your colleagues doing this?

HONEA: That is a good question and we certainly have a lot of assistance from a lot of other agencies. We're drawing upon the experiences that they have had in instances that are similar to this, but the fact of the matter is, this is unprecedented. No one has ever had to deal with this magnitude that has caused so much destruction and regrettably so much death. So we're doing our best to deal with the situation. It is overwhelming. I don't have any word to describe it.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it has to be. President Trump is making his way to California. If you had an opportunity to show him, to talk to him or even ask him of anything, what would it be?

HONEA: Well, I'm actually glad he's coming. I think it's important for him to actually see firsthand the devastation that has occurred here. To understand the impact on my community and hopefully that will result in the kind of aid we need going forward with regard to recovery, but also long-term, in terms of having resources and infrastructure necessary to keep this safe.

WHITFIELD: OK, and in terms of Paradise, is there any more clarity about how this happened? I mean, what sparked this?

HONEA: Yes, that's a -- that is part of the investigation that is done by CAL FIRE. They have arson investigators so they're handling that piece of it. My role in terms of this is certainly coordinating with them on evacuations, securing those areas, providing general law enforcement and the unfortunate task of dealing with the coroners side of things.

[12:10:00]

WHITFIELD: All right, Sheriff Kory Honea, thanks so much for your time and of course we are wishing you and everyone there better days, appreciate it.

HONEA: Thank you so much; thank you. Bye.

WHITFIELD: Right now President Trump is traveling to California to see firsthand what everyone is dealing with. Joining me right now is CNN's White House reporter, Sarah Westwood there at the White House. What do we understand his plan to be? SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well Fred, we know the

president will making two stops in California. He'll be meeting with firefighters, he'll be meeting with FEMA administrators and first responders as they tour some of the communities that have been affected by these two fires. He'll also be traveling with California Governor Jerry Brown and his newly-elected successor and according to the president, they'll be talking about forest management.

That's something that the president has been very critical of over the past week. In fact he even threatened to cut Federal funding to California's forest management and he says he will be taking the issue up with state officials when he touches down in California. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: I'm meeting with the governor and the new governor - governor- elect so we have a lot of things to talk about. We will be talking about forest management. I've been saying that for a long time and this could have been a lot different situation but the one thing is that everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing and there's no question about it. It should have been done many years ago but I think everybody is on the right side. It's a big issue. It's a big issue; very expensive issue but very, very inexpensive when you compare it to even one of these horrible fires.

(END VIDEO)

WESTWOOD: Now the president aboard Air Force One has been active on twitter tweeting a little bit about politics and a little bit about his visit. He's traveling with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on a trip that might not see him return to the White House until well after midnight tonight. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right and the president is also in those stops, he might be meeting with people in Thousand Oaks and that's where that horrible bar shooting took place.

WESTWOOD: That's right. We understand from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders that the president does plan to meet with people who were affected by that shooting that claimed 12 lives when a gunman opened fire in that popular bar. Sanders saying on "Fox News" that this would be an emotional day for the president and the White House staff with the message that the president wants to bring to the victims of this shooting is that he and his administration are behind them and they are willing to make federal resources available to get them through this time. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood at the White House. Thank you so much.

All right, coming up the CIA concludes that Journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death was ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince. Now the White House is vowing to hold those responsible accountable plus President Trump says he's finished answering Robert Mueller's questions and did so very easily he says. So what he would and would not discuss with special counsel straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:00]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back. President Trump says he expects to be briefed on the CIA's findings that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who lived in the United States and was a columnist for "The Washington Post." He was killed and his body dismembered after he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month to get papers for his upcoming marriage.

Here is what the president told reporters as he left the White House earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TRUMP: The CIA is going to be speaking to me today. We've not been briefed yet. As of this moment, we were told that he did not play a role. We're going to have to find out what they have to say. I'll be doing that while I'm on the plane. I'll be speaking also with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: The CIA has concluded the Crown Prince personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi according to a senior U.S. official. A "Washington Post" report says that despite his comments, President Trump has been informed of the prince's alleged involvement. The Saudi government admits to Khashoggi's killing but denies the crown prince had any role in ordering it. I want to bring in Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman, so Ben, the CIA came to this assessment based on available intelligence. What does that constitute?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the intelligence comes from a variety of sources. One of them significantly is a U.S. Intelligence telephone intercept of the conversation between the Saudi ambassador to Washington who happens to be the brother of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Jamal Khashoggi. In that conversation the ambassador tells him that in order to get that paper that would allow him to remarry in Turkey he needed to go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He assured him according to this CIA source that he would be safe in doing so.

The CIA believes that that conversation was Khashoggi was prompted by the crown prince himself. In addition to that, the intelligence is based upon for instance the audio files that Gina Haspel, the Director of the CIA was given access to when on the 23rd of October she traveled to Turkey and was given access to that audio which apparently documents the torture, murder and dismemberment of the "Washington Post" columnist.

[12:20:00] In addition to that, the Americans were given access to a Turkish phone intercept of a security officer on the day of the murder contacting a senior advisor of the crown prince in which according to the "New York Times." He says tell your boss the deed has been done. On top of all that, keeping in mind Fredricka that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and it's widely believed that the Saudi government would not send a so called rogue operation, a 15-man hit team to Istanbul to kill Jamal Khashoggi without the knowledge and probably under the orders of the crown prince himself. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.

All right, coming up next President Trump answers questions for Robert Mueller's Russia investigation but will Mueller get all the answers that he needs? We'll ask the experts coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:25:00]

WHITFIELD: All right welcome back. President Trump says he's finished writing answers to questions on whether Russia colluded with his 2016 campaign to help him win. The president continues to deny any collusion. He also emphasized that he wrote the answers to those questions not his attorneys and expects to turn over the responses to special counsel Muller's team as soon as next week. Sources are telling CNN the president was not happy with many of the questions either. CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Pamela Brown has details.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN'S SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We have learned President Donald Trump and his legal team have taken issue with some of the questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller which covers a transition period of time after the 2016 election. They believe it could be off limits under executive privilege as they pertain to the presidency. This is according to a source familiar with the negotiations. Now the source would not explicitly say whether the president answered those questions other than to say there are quote, "responses to all of the questions that were asked."

Now Trump's lawyers have previously made the case to Mueller's team that the president would only answer questions related to collusion about events that took place before the 2016 election. In the interview with the Washington Post the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani eluded to the sticking point with the question saying there are some that create more issues for us legally than others.

A list of questions provided to Trump's legal team in the spring by Robert Mueller's team included questions about efforts during the transition to establish a back channel line of communication to Russia and a 2017 meeting in (inaudible) involving Trump ally Eric Prydz, a business man and founder of private security company formerly known as Black Water. Now the president and his lawyers we know are finalizing answers to the special counsel's questions. They could return the responses as early as next week. Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington. WHITFIELD: All right let's talk further about all this. With me is Jim Kessler, cofounder of The Third Way an international think tank that supports left-leaning ideals and former legislative director for Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Alice Stewart is a Republican Strategist and a CNN Political Commentator and Renato Mariotti, a former U.S. Prosecutor and a CNN Legal Analyst. Good to see all of you.

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT AND CNN COMMENTATOR: Hi Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, so Renato you first. He answered Mueller's questions himself, not his attorneys. Is that the way it usually goes?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER U.S. PROSECUTOR AND CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely not. If you have written questions that are posed to you obviously you consult with your attorneys. You make sure that they sign off on whatever you say. That's the advantage of getting written questions versus questions that are oral where you're going to answer off the cuff. Maggie Haberman, the "New York Times" reporter and CNN Analyst said that that was a false claim based on her sources and that's what I would expect, a lawyer who permitted their client to answer those questions without them at least editing, reviewing, and approving them would be incompetent.

WHITFIELD: And then Alice, you know when the president said, you know, I've answered the questions myself, no one assisted me. He also kind of threw water on all of it saying he thinks a lot of the questions were tantamount to be a perjury trap. So he's expressing some real worry is he not be saying that. And if you're only telling the truth, then why should you even worry about what - how you could be perjuring yourself. Why does he keep saying that?

STEWART: That's a great point Fred. If you're telling the truth you don't get ensnared in a perjury trap. I'd like to think that he's being truthful and accurate when he says there's no collusion and no coordination and he's done nothing wrong. And if so, speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and get it all out there. It is in my view much more appropriate for this president to do questions and answers in writing as opposed to in person given his history of...

WHITFIELD: Why?

STEWART: ... it's not a secret his relationship with the truth is not quite the same as a lot of other people's so if he's able to get the questions in advance and write the answers, it's much more easy to stay in line and stay on point and I think that's a critical issue. A good point that Pamela raised in her piece, though, having worked in a governor's administration before, executive privilege is a valid point for them to have with regard to certain information that should be off limits or they should not have to answer, based on being protected by executive privilege.

[12:30:00]

So they have a very good point there.

It's a very important step moving forward getting these answers submitted so we can get to the bottom of the Mueller investigation and put it behind us one way or the other.

WHITFIELD: So Jim, there was a whole lot of momentum behind, you know, and effort, a bipartisan effort, you know, to vote on a bill that would protect, you know, Mueller just in case something were to happen to, you know, Jeff Sessions or, you know, any chain of command.

Here's Senator Orrin Hatch explaining why things have changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Why not allow for the bill to --

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Why not --

RAJU: Why not allow the bill to come forward for a vote?

Hatch: Because we don't need that. And frankly, even if you did do that bill, all you do is get into a big hassle. So --

RAJU: With the president?

HATCH: With him and a lot of others. So I -- that's not the way to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So Jim, why? What's the reticence now? I mean, when it seems with an interim, you know, attorney general, all the way more reason why you would have a protection in place.

JIM KESSLER, CO-FOUNDER, THIRD WAY: Yes, you -- absolutely. This legislation that protects the Mueller investigation should go through. And in all likelihood, it has the 60 votes in the Senate.

I think this is the calculation that Republicans in the Senate are making. They -- in their hearts believe that the Mueller investigation should go forward and needs to be protected. But voting on this bill really alienates their base.

So, what they're hoping against hope is that Donald Trump doesn't do anything that really impedes this investigation. And my guess is do backchannel warnings, they are saying to the president, you know, do not do this. But really that shouldn't be enough. They really should pass this legislation which passed the Senate Judiciary by a bipartisan 14-7 vote.

WHITFIELD: And Renato, why you said, you know, the president's attorneys would likely, you know, sign off on whatever responses, it wouldn't be, you know, him going unilaterally, going all of this alone. Is there a chance that if Mueller is not satisfied, you know, with the questions or doesn't feel that, you know, they're full bodied enough, could there still be an opportunity for a, you know, face-to- face interview? Or, is that, you know, there no possibility for that at all?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Frankly, I think Mueller wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't demand a face-to-face interview is if he thinks that the cost of fighting that in court are too great either for his -- him -- you know, his office or for the country. But otherwise, a prosecutor would never accept written questions and answers to these questions because of course -- and I think what somebody else in the panel just mentioned a moment ago, you have the opportunity to think through your answers, be very careful, consult with your attorneys. You're going to get something that's essentially drafted by the attorneys instead of the unvarnished truth which is what prosecutors are looking for.

WHITFIELD: And then Alice, help people understand while there's, you know, lost momentum in this bipartisan effort to protect Bob Mueller but then now Republicans are planning to subpoena former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch in connection with the, you know, Clinton e-mail probe and Russia investigation. Help us explain, what's this all about?

STEWART: Let me just say first, I think it is important to move forward with any protections, to make sure that Mueller's job and the probe continues, if nothing else, for an insurance policy to make sure that there are no changes there. With regard to Goodlatte's effort to subpoena James Comey and Loretta Lynch, this is part of their onoing investigation. They truly have wanted for quite some time to really get to the bottom of the decision makers in 2016 with regard to Russia's meddling in the election, as well as the overall probe of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. I don't feel that was fully investigated and looked at. There's a tremendous concern about how she handle her e-mails, and that something in my view should have been handled a long time ago.

But given the fact that the reality is Republicans are in the lame duck position, they'll be handing over the gavel shortly. They need to get a lot of this on record and they need to get a lot of it out in the open. And Comey has indicated he's happy to do it in a public forum. But it's important to do so before they lose the authority to question these individuals as well as the subpoena power to question others. It's important to get to the bottom of it.

WHITFIELD: So Jim quickly, is this connected or a distraction?

KESSLER: I think it's a baffling move by outgoing Chairman Goodlatte and I don't see how it works for Republicans. James Comey would love to testify, he'd love to testify in open hearings. Five out of six things that you're going to -- he's going to say is going to hurt Republicans more. I think it's a desperation final ploy before they give up the chairmanships and I don't think it's going to work.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jim Kessler, Alice Stewart, Renato Mariotti, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

KESSLER: Thank you. [12:35:02] WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, who will lead the new Democratic majority in the House? President Trump says he's throwing his support to Nancy Pelosi. But why are other Democrats looking for change. We'll ask Congressman Tom O'Halleran right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back.

Democrats are expanding their majority in Congress after picking up yet another House seat in California. That means Democrats have now picked up 34 House seats. The overall balance of power stands at 229 Democrats and 200 Republicans. There are still six House races that are too close to call.

[12:40:02] And one of the first decisions House representatives will have to make will be who will lead them as House speaker. Congresswoman and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been shoring up support but more than a dozen incoming lawmakers have said they do not plan to support her bid for speaker. Well, this morning, President Trump voicing his support for Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever number of votes she needs, if it's 15 or 10 or two or one, she's got them from me, automatic. So tell her opposition they're wasting their time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And Nancy Pelosi's office is responding to President Trump there saying, "Leader Pelosi will win the speakership with Democratic votes."

All right, one of Pelosi's Democratic critics and potential challenger for speaker is Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge and she met with Pelosi yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: We talked about some succession plan, we talked about some other things. I think that the biggest issue that we discussed was the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now, Arizona Congressman Tom O'Halleran. Good to see you.

So, the president speaking this morning, throwing his support behind Nancy Pelosi, even saying he's going to work really hard to make sure she has enough votes. What do you think about that?

REP. TOM O'HALLERAN (D), ARIZONA: I think whoever is going to be speaker is going to be speaker with Democratic votes. I don't know what the president's thinking, but I do know that our caucus will come together and vote for somebody out of our caucus.

WHITFIELD: OK. And you are one of nine Democrats who have actually, you know, said that you're in favor of a challenge. What kind of changes are you talking about?

O'HALLERAN: My changes are about what the Problem Solvers Caucus is talking about is, a change for the direction of the Congress, reforms in Congress so that we can address a more open Congress, a more bipartisan Congress. A Congress that every representative has a voice in, unlike what we've gone through for the last two years.

And so what we're looking for is commitment from whoever wants to be speaker to be able to address those types of issues.

WHITFIELD: Do you have anyone in mind?

O'HALLERAN: Well, right now, we are in negotiations. So until we get through negotiation processes, you know, we're just not going to vote for somebody unless they're willing to reform.

WHITFIELD: And Massachusetts' Congressman Seth Moulton, you know, is weighing in on the leadership debate, and this is what he had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The American people set a very strong message in the election last week. That we want new approaches to politics and new leaders in Washington. Just look at the incredible number of women, of veterans, of people of color who were elected. And if are party responds by reinstalling the same status quo leadership we've had since 2006, then we're failing the American people and we're letting down the Democratic Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And what in your view would make, you know, an effective House leader if not for, you know, Pelosi? What characteristics do you want to see in a new House leader?

O'HALLERAN: Well, I want to see a House leader that's inclusive, transparent, is willing to address the regular order issue, willing to make sure that bills go through in a bipartisan way. Get heard through the entire process, through committee, through the Rules Committee. And that we have enough time between the Rules Committee and something going to the floor so that we can actually address the problems that there might be in the bill instead of what we've seen lately as sometimes my staff and I don't know what's coming to the floor until five minutes before it hits the floor.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then, you know, back to the president, while he's heaping praise on Pelosi, he wants to see her, you know, as the next, you know, House leader. He's also, you know, heaping praise via Twitter on other Democrats, Stacey Abrams who was the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgian, and Andrew Gillum who is the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida. And he says, "You know, if anything", you can see the tweets right there, he says, "You know, they gave it a good shot but perhaps they have, you know, a future in the Democratic Party."

What do you suppose is behind the president doing this today?

O'HALLERAN: Well, I hope what is behind it is the realization that we're -- he's going to need bipartisan support to get a working Congress and work together with us. That's what we've been striving for, for the last few years. Is to be able to work together, to be able to find -- identify the priorities of the American people and work for those priorities. Whether it's on rural America or urban America but bring America back together again.

WHITFIELD: And do you see the president sending a message that it looks like he is showing a greater willingness or eagerness even to work with Democrats especially since Democrats are now, you know, controlling the House?

[12:45:02] O'HALLERAN: I would rather see that message through actions instead of just words. We haven't seen that to day. And -- so as we get into the next year and the next Congress, hopefully, the realization that there's leverage on both sides =, we hopefully will work together on these issues.

WHITFIELD: All right, Congressman Tom O'Halleran, thanks so much for your time.

O'HALLERAN: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, racing to finish the Florida recount before a new deadline. This, as we're getting a clear picture of the critical Senate race there. And we'll get an update from the ground, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:50:07] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The race are close, Georgia gubernatorial race is over. Democratic hopeful Stacey Abrams told supports yesterday that her Republican opponent Brian Kemp will become the new governor. The announcement comes after more than a week of post-election legal maneuvering from her campaign and allies as they sought to find enough to votes to reduce Kemp's lead and force a December 4th runoff. Well, Abrams ultimately made the decision to end her campaign in a fiery speech to supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GERGIA GUBERNATIORIAL CANDIDATE: So let's be clear. This is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper. But my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Abrams also announced plans for a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for what she called gross mismanagement of the election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions. Kemp, as secretary of state oversaw the elections and in a statement Kemp says he appreciates Abrams' passion, hard work and commitment to public service.

All right, now to the latest on the Florida vote recounts. Counties manually counting ballots must turn in their result by tomorrow at noon. And people are working really hard for Broward County, Florida painstakingly counting each ballot by hand. Hanging in the balance, the U.S. Senate race and the race for agriculture commissioner.

Dan Merica is in the capital Tallahassee. So Dan, what are the chances that the Democrats who trail in these races are able to close the gap?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTES: Hey, good afternoon, Fred. Since Florida State and Boston College are going to play a few blocks from me right now, I'm going to use a football analogy and, you know, it's Hail Mary time for Democrats here in Florida. And they're really certain to come to terms to that fact both here and nationally where Democrats have been emboldened by not only Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson but Stacey Abrams what you just mentioned in Georgia. They've been emboldened by this fight over voter rights.

The reality here is that a string of losses both at the (INAUDIBLE) courthouse down the street here where a federal judge basically delivered a loss after loss after loss for Democratic interests. As well as the fact that the machine recount here in Florida didn't really do anything to close that gap significantly for Democrats.

Those two things taken together have really put Democrats with their backs against the wall right now. And I think that's starting to don on many of them here. What they needed and what they were aware that they needed when this all started was they needed both the machine recount and the manual recount to bring this race closer together. And for those legal battles to expand the universal voters where they can net some vote. That frankly has not happened.

And I think it's fair to now question, you know, once the manual recount is finished tomorrow as you correctly note, all the votes that are legally cast will have been counted up into that point. And now -- for the last week, week and a half, you had some Democrats who basically argued we're going to stay in this race until every legal vote is counted. Once that happens tomorrow, you got us asking the question, Bill Nelson, Andrew Gillum, are they going to concede this race and move on with their futures.

On the Republican side, both Rick Scott who is the current governor running for Senate, and Ron DeSantis who is a former representative who is running for governor, they've pretty much moved on with what they would call their transitions. Rick Scott has gone to Florida. Ron DeSantis has gone on with the transition from what he used to do as a representative to governor. So, at the same time the Democrats are facing this decision of how long are they're going to hold out this fight, they could, you know, use some more legal maneuvers to do so. Republicans have moved on and what it seems like is, tomorrow, it's going -- all of that is going to come to a head once the manual recount here in Florida is completed, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dan Merica, thank you so much for that.

Meantime, President Trump has been making his way cross-country to get to California where there's a wildfire has have wreaked so many lives. There you see Air Force One just landing there at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California. The president presumably will be touring the hardest-hit areas there in Northern California. We don't have his exact, you know, itinerary but of course as we learn it, we do know that he will be met by the governor and the governor-elect. And then he will be meeting and seeing firsthand the devastation that these wildfires have brought.

Still so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. But first, we want you to meet another of this year's top 10 CNN Heroes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROB GORE: I don't like pronouncing people dead. It's probably the worst thing that I've ever had to do.

[12:55:01] I want to preserve life. When I see patients that are coming in with violent injuries, when somebody looks like you from your neighborhood, a lot of the stuff really hits home.

You realize, I don't want this to happen anymore. What do we do about it?

What's going on? You're all right?

It's important that we start training young people, and helping them learn how to become change agents, working with them on a middle school level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Go to cnnhero.com right now to vote for Dr. Gore for CNN Hero of the Year or any of your favorite top 10 heroes now at cnnheroes.com.

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