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Trump Blasts Of Osama Bin Laden Raid; Trump Regrets Not Visiting Arlington Cemetery On Veterans Day; Bill Nelson Concedes Florida Senate Race To Rick Scott; 79 Killed, At Least 1,300 Missing In California Wildfires; Trump "Probably" Won't Sit For Mueller Interview; Trump Hints At Staff Shakeups, Lukewarm Review For Kelly; Education Department Unveils Protections For Those Accused Of Sexual Misconduct On Campuses. Aired 3-4 pm ET

Aired November 18, 2018 - 15:00   ET



[15:00:29] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Breaking right now, a war of words between President Trump and the man who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In an interview on Fox News this morning, Trump criticized the military for not having killed bin Laden sooner and he dismissed the retired admiral who oversaw that operation as a Hillary Clinton backer.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: McRaven, retired admiral, Navy SEAL, 37 years. He former head of U.S. Special Operation --


WALLACE: Special operation --

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led and the operations, command of the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and they killed Osama bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his life.

TRUMP: OK. He's a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer. And frankly --

WALLACE: He's a Navy SEAL.

TRUMP: Wouldn't it be nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that?


WHITFIELD: Admiral William McRaven speaking to our Jake Tapper saying this. "I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama & President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents regardless of their political party who uphold the dignity of the office and who use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times. I stand by my comment that the President's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. When you undermine the people's right to a free press and freedom of speech and expression, then you threaten the constitution and all for which it stands." That from Admiral McRaven in that response particularly from President Trump in that interview, wide ranging interview on Fox.

All right, let's discuss this now with CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. And you served with McRaven in Europe and Iraq. You even tweeted out saying, you know, "Having served with Bill McRaven in Europe and Iraq, he is one of the best leaders and selfless servants of our nation I had ever met. Not a political bone in his body." So now, what do you make of this back and forth?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm going to reinforce what I said, Fredricka, about Bill McRaven. He is an unbelievable patriot and a true servant not of any president, but of the constitution of the United States. That's what military people raised their hand to vow to support and defend. And Admiral McRaven has been very vocal about that when he seen elements of the constitution being driven down, dismissed by the current president.

Bill and I served about the same amount of time together. So, I would guess he came in probably at either under President Ford or President Nixon, and then served multiple presidents in his time in service.

He was a fan, as I am, of both President Bush and President Obama because we served under him in --under both of them in combat and saw that like any president, they have all sorts of really difficult requirements, difficult decisions. We don't always agree with everything they do or say, but truthfully if they uphold the office of the president and uphold the constitution, that's what is most important.

WHITFIELD: And as a veteran, what comes across your mind when you hear a sitting president dismiss an admiral, a retired admiral who oversaw these incredible operations, such risk taking operations, and criticize him over politics.

HERTLING: You know, I'd use one word, Fredricka, and that's disgusting. You know, everyone knows Bill McRaven as being the guy that led the bin Laden raid, but truthfully I know him as the guy who is the JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Commander, in Iraq.

And there were multiple missions where this guy was involved, placed himself in danger, led soldiers in some -- in the joint force in some of the most challenging situations you can imagine.

And for having someone like the President of the United States, a man had that holds an office that suppose to represent all people and -- who says he supports the military to just dismiss this great American hero as a guy who was a Hillary Clinton lover, which is patently not true, is just really disgusting. It's unfortunate, but it's just another day in the life of the Trump administration, I guess.

WHITFIELD: And this comes a week after there were observations and a lot of criticisms about the President's handling of Veterans Day weekend, not first going to an American cemetery, you know, an hour or so outside of Paris.

[15:05:12] And then when getting back to the United States, not going to Arlington National Cemetery, which is tradition for sitting president. And the President was asked about that in the same wide ranging Fox interview and this is what he had to say.


TRUMP: I should have done that. I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling, as you know.

WALLACE: But this is Veterans Day.

TRUMP: I probably -- you know, in retrospect I should have and I did last year and I will virtually every year. But we had come in very late at night and I had just left literally the American cemetery in Paris and I really probably assumed that was fine. And I was extremely busy because of affairs of state, doing other things.


WHITFIELD: Your thoughts?

HERTLING: It's a factor of leadership, Fredricka. Leaders know what to do, where to be, what things to say. And in all three of those things, I think the President is currently a failure.

It's more than just saying I support our troops. You have to understand what a leader of the military has to do, what they have to show. And sometimes that's being in places where you don't want to be at times when you don't want to be there and you have a lot of other things on your mind or on your plate.

But truthfully, there are just flat out times when you need to be different places to show your respect. And in this case last weekend was one of those kinds of occasions where the President received a failing grade in many military people's view. It's just unfortunate.

WHITFIELD: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thanks so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And more breaking news now, this time in the U.S. Senate race in Florida. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson conceded to Republican Rick Scott last hour. Nelson has been a U.S. senator for nearly 18 years and he released this statement just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, things worked out a little differently than grace and I had hoped, but let me say I by no measure feel defeated and that's because I've had the privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life. And I don't think anybody could have been as blessed.

It's been a rewarding journey, as well as a very humbling experience. I was not victorious in this race, but I still wish to strongly reaffirm the cause for which we fought. A public office is a public trust.


WHITFIELD: All of this happening after Florida's recount actually ended today, showing Governor Rick Scott leading by a little more than 10,000 votes. Our Ryan Nobles is in Tallahassee. So, Ryan, after this concession, now what?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, I think in many ways this Florida recount was pretty dramatic at least in the early days. It ends in many ways with a whimper instead of a bang. You know, a taped statement here from Senator Bill Nelson where he can -- officially concedes this race and now we know that Rick Scott will definitely be the next senator from Florida.

And I think it's important to point that the results we saw on election night, well, the numbers did change dramatically. There were never -- there's never really any real hope that there were enough votes out there for Bill Nelson to overcome Rick Scott's margin of victory even through two exhaustive recounts of the 8.5 million votes that were cast here in Florida.

You know, after that machine recount, the margin was about 12,000 votes. Then after the hand recount, it went down to 10,000 votes, but still not enough. Rick Scott will become the next senator.

I think, Fred, you know, from -- in terms of formality, the elections board here in Florida will meet on Tuesday to certify these results, that's just a formality, and that will officially make it clear who the next governor and senator will be from the state of Florida.

But the big question is, what does this mean for Florida going forward? This is obviously still a 50-50 state. Democrats had high hopes here. They thought that Bill Nelson could hang on.

They thought that Andrew Gillum, who was an up and coming Democratic star, African-American, had the potential to make history as the first governor, it didn't turn out that way, but it was so, so close. It's been a while since Democrats were able to win here state-wide.

So, Fred, the question is, are they competitive in 2020 because this will be a very important state in the upcoming presidential election.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

And the President is weighing in on this via Twitter. From day one -- I'm quoting his tweet now. "From day one, Rick Scott never wavered. He was a great governor and will be even a greater senator in representing the people of Florida. Congratulations to Rick on having waged such a courageous and successful campaign."

[15:10:02] All right, let's bring in our Marc Caputo, Senior Political Reporter for POLITICO Florida. All right, the count is over. Nelson has conceded. Any surprise here? I mean, it was going to be tough to try and find 14,000 votes, but now there's a 10,000 vote difference between the winner and the one who doesn't win.

MARC CAPUTO, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO FLORIDA: Right. Well, maybe not surprise, but the relief here is that Senator Nelson is not going to contest the election and so this is finally over. I think some spotlight needs to be recast in Broward Country, which was the ground zero for so many problems.

There's a strong arguments to be made at the bad ballot design. If it didn't cost Bill Nelson the election, it greatly cost him. You know, he is down 10,033 votes officially in the final count. But if you just do some statistical analysis on what the Senate race likely would have receive, but also the governor's race in that county, Nelson would have lost by only 287 votes or if the county performed like it's neighboring counties in South Florida, Nelson might have actually won by about 637 votes.


CAPUTO: So hindsight's 2020 is kind of unfixable. But I think Brenda Snipes, the Broward County election supervisor, her days are numbered. Now, she signaled she might quit. One of the reasons she did that is that we have reported last week that either the Governor-elect DeSantis when he becomes governor, or Governor Rick Scott after the recount is going to spend her from office. And there's a lot of Democrats who support that idea as well.

WHITFIELD: Except the people vote -- voted for her in that office.

CAPUTO: They did. But the Florida constitution gives a governor the right to suspend a constitutional officer for "incompetence" as well as other things. And Brenda Snipes' election supervisor predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, in 2003 was suspended for botching the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

So there is both history in election supervisors in Broward of botching election results and getting removed. Incidentally, just what yesterday, Broward admitted like, "Hey, we can't find 2,000 ballots in the vote tally here from a manual compared to our initial count." And then Supervisor Snipes said, "Well, the ballots are in the building." You know, elections and election supervising are about tracking ballots. And they're not even doing that well there.

WHITFIELD: Yes, this is not help -- and this is not instill --help instill a lot of confidence, you know, in the voting public which wants to, you know, believe that they can count on their vote to be counted. So really quickly, there's going to be a lot of reflection, not just on the election, you know, system, the ballots, and all of that, but also on Nelson who has been in the office, you know, serving for 18 years. He'll be reflecting on what possibly went wrong or what are Florida voters saying by sending Rick Nelson to the U.S. Senate.

CAPUTO: Well, what I could say definitively is what's wrong with the Democratic Party's base? They tend to massively underperform or underperform relative to their numbers compared to Republicans. And in previous elections, we heard this excuse, "Oh, there's not a true progressive on the ballot. Oh, there's a boring white guy in the ballot."

Well, here, we had a true progressive in Andrew Gillum and then we had, in the estimation of many, a boring white guy in Senator Bill Nelson and they still lost. Democrats didn't come out in force relative to the registration numbers and compared to Republicans. So the Democratic Party needs to do a little soul searching on how it can motivate its base or perhaps figure out how to change its base because right now it's not working.

WHITFIELD: All right. Marc Caputo, good to see you. Thank you so much.

CAPUTO: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead, devastation in California, nearly 80 killed and 1,300 missing. Families were still searching for loved ones. We'll talk with one of the victims still holding out hope.


[15:18:03] WHITFIELD: The calamity from those massive wildfires in California is growing. 79 people are dead in wildfires across the state. 1,300 people are missing. The deadliest fire now in state history is the so-called Camp Fire in Northern California. Thousands of people are now homeless, living in tents after that fire burned through more than 149,000 acres. And it's only 60 percent contained.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Chico, California talking to evacuees and what are they dealing with right now.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now we have a very fluid situation where people in this parking lot of a Walmart in Chico are shifting. But I have to tell you, this is hardening. This is going very orderly and a larger tale can be told by a small picture just in front of me.

If you look Barbara Stock into somebody, she set up a makeshift pet store here so people for free could get the food they want and other pet's supplies. So what's going on is the people in this Walmart parking lot are going to move to some nearby grass.

Barbara telling me that the sheriff said it was OK for them to stay on the grass, so the grass is where the tent city is and a lot of people say that they are going to stay and try to ride this out.

And Fredricka real quick, I'd like to clarify something. In talking to the sheriff and listening to him over the past few days, he asked reporters as we told you before to give context to this unaccounted for list.

He was very, very firm and not saying that these are missing and presumed dead and they articulate how many people got on that list just by a 911 call or someone saying they saw someone down the street and that there were duplicate names on it. So we don't want to be alarmist in indicating that there are a vast number of people who are missing and presumed dead.

We'll tell though, at one point there was this story of this bus with 22 children on it two teachers and a bus driver, a five-hour odyssey (ph). They were wondering what happened to this bus and at one point it had filled up with smoke. There were flame all around and the bus driver gave the shirt off his back.

[15:20:01] He had another shirt, but he tore one of them up and what he did was he made makeshift respirator because children were starting to get very tired. He was worried about them passing out. And I'll let him pick up the rest of the story.


KEVIN MCKAY, SURVIVOR: You know, we started with just kind of doing this and then it was like, "Let's get a bunch of them. We have a finite amount of water." So, and then we were able to get the kids each a cover. And, you know, that seemed to help.


VERCAMMEN: And that's bus driver Kevin McKay whose quick thinking helped to get all the school children to safety. Those are the children, Fredricka, whose parents could not get to the school, Ponderosa Elementary, to pick them up in time. And everybody is thrilled to hear how that bus made it out in there.

WHITFIELD: Yes, yes. I mean, I'm sure they cannot thank him enough. Incredible. And lots of heroic moments just like that. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

All right, thousands of Californians are focused on one thing, finding loved ones who are still missing. Joining me right now via Skype is Sadia Quint. She is still looking for her uncle missing in the Camp Fire. How are you doing?


WHITFIELD: I'm good. So talk to me about how it is you go about trying to look for your uncle. What are you going through?

QUINT: So we just -- really, right now, it's Facebook. There is a few groups on there, the Camp Fire Information Updates group, and then there's Camp Fire Missing Persons groups. So we go on both of the groups just about every day, every day really, and check the missing persons list to, you know, see if our uncle is on there and he does keeps falling off.

He's been off of it for about three days now. And I know that it's happened to a few other people, but -- we're not really getting any information about, you know, how they're going through the process of finding people. We do know that his house has burned down and his car was in his garage. He's 66 and he has respiratory issues and also he has back issues so -- I mean, we're just thinking like there is no way that he would have been able to make it out by himself.

We have talked to his landlord since the fire and I know that some of the residents in that neighborhood, you know, were asking about my uncle and they hadn't seen him, so we don't know if anybody got him out of there. We obviously haven't heard from him since the fire.

So, I mean, most of the information that we're getting is through Facebook and everybody on Facebook is really supportive and we're not the only family that still has family members who are missing. So, it's kind of hard to get frustrated.

I mean, we are frustrated at this point because we know that he was on the missing persons list and we -- me and my niece and my other niece have gone physically to talk to the sheriffs department in Butte County and they told us that they're going to put him back on the list. And we also went to a FEMA site in Chico and we were told that he was not on the list, I mean, on the same day, so obviously maybe they didn't tried to put him on the list.

WHITFIELD: So, Sadia, tell me how agonizing that is. I mean, you're searching, you're doing everything that you could possibly think of from, you know, social media, actually going physically, you know, to the sheriff's office. I mean, tell me what your heart is feeling, what your head is telling you as you go through all of this to look for your uncle.

QUINT: So my heart and my family's heart is telling us since he wasn't in the best of health that, you know, he might not have made it through the fire, but just to have that 1 percent, you know, in those houses burned down, we still have that 1 percent of hope that maybe he is in one of the shelters or maybe he's in a hospital and the hospital, you know, just hasn't told us yet because we have called all the hospitals, we went to a shelter, we've called shelters and we haven't received any information.

So we're just hoping that we get a call very soon from the sheriffs department just letting us know like what is going on. Was he in the house or was he not in the house? So then we can start focusing on not being dead because that's what our perception is right now that he just -- he might be dead in his house, you know. And, you know, nobody is saying anything.

And I think probably the most frustrating part for anybody (INAUDIBLE) is my family that we're not getting any information. We keep seeing the death toll rise and the missing people number rise and then the list is just, you know, like --

WHITFIELD: Antagonizing. Well, Sadia Quint, we are hoping and praying for you, too, and for your uncle. Thank you so much.

[15:25:07] QUINT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Coming up next, lawmakers on Capitol Hill fighting to protect Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Today, President Trump promises not to get involved as his acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker oversees that. Details straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: All right, new today, President Trump now says he probably won't sit for interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That's after telling reporters yesterday that he had finished writing answers to the questions about possible collusion and saying those answers would be submitted this week before Thanksgiving.

[15:30:08] But in a new interview that aired on Fox News today, the President said he has no plans to respond to questions about obstruction of justice in writing or in person.

For more now, let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez. So, Boris, what else was said?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Fred. Yes, President Trump giving some insight in his thoughts on the Russia investigation at this point. Notably going back on something he had been saying a few months ago that he was looking forward to sitting down one on one with Robert Mueller for in person testimony, now the President saying that is unlikely.

It appears that he's listened to his attorneys who sources have told CNN have suggested that would be a bad idea. The President instead suggesting that he's going to hand over written answers to Rob Mueller's questions within the next week or so.

Our President also opening up about his new acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker who he put into place after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out of that role. In the past, Whitaker has been critical of the Russia investigation going as far as to say he believes that it could be stifled by limiting funding for it.

The President in this interview said that he wasn't aware that Whitaker had such strong stances on the Russia investigation previously, though he didn't answer exactly when he learned of Whitaker's positions.

We also learned from the President when he was asked whether he believed that Whitaker or rather whether he would intervene in Whitaker's decisions on the Russia probe, he ultimately said that he would not. Listen to this exchange, the President with Chris Wallace.


WALLACE: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?

TRUMP: Look, he -- it's going to be up to him. I think he is very well aware politically. I think he's astute politically. He's a very smart person, a very respected person. He's going to do what's right. I really believe he's going to do what's right.

WALLACE: But you won't overrule him if he decides to curtail?

TRUMP: I would not get involved. And all these people that say I'm going to end the investigation, you know, they've been saying that now for how long has this witch hunt gone on? It's gone on for what?


SANCHEZ: F red, the President later adding that he believed that the administration had "wasted" enough time on this witch hunt. I did want to point something out. There are questions about Matt Whitaker to the President.

Just a few days ago, our colleague Abby Philipp was asking very similar questions to what Chris Wallace was asking at the time the President attacked Abby suggesting that her questions were stupid. Fred?

WHITFIELD: We remember. All right, Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, more moves in the White House. President Trump leaving the door open for new staff changes. We'll talk about that with our panel, next.


[15:37:34] WHITFIELD: In a new interview with Fox News, President Trump hinted that more staff and cabinet members could be leaving the administration soon. The President gave lukewarm reviews for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Chief of Staff John Kelly. The President's half hearted appraisal of the two keeps speculation alive that a White House shakeup could be in the works.


TRUMP: I'm very happy with my cabinet other than, you know, a couple of exceptions and even there I'm not unhappy.

WALLACE: Back in July you said that Chief of Staff John Kelly will be here through 2020. Can you still say that?

TRUMP: Well, we -- I wouldn't -- look, we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does and there are certain things that I don't like that he does that aren't his strength. It's not that he doesn't do -- you know, he works so hard. He's doing an excellent job in many ways. There are a couple of things where it's just not his strength. It's not his fault. It's not his strength.

WALLACE: Such as?

TRUMP: But I haven't even thought about John in terms of this, but John at some point is going to want to move on. John will move on.


WHITFIELD: All right, with me now is Jack Kingston, who is a former Republican congressman from Georgia, and Kevin Cate, who is a Democratic strategist. Good to see you both.

All right, so, Kevin, you first, you know, that wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement, you know, for John Kelly or left the door open for a lot there. What do you suppose is likely to happen?

KEVIN CATE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGISY: You know, you have to remember in these interviews, Fredricka, that President Trump's whole philosophy on politics is not about being right or wrong, it's about entertaining the crowd. And so what he's doing, whether it's Mueller, whether it's talking about his cabinet, he is trying to distract us from what's actually going on within that administration. And I would say he's just talking about --

WHITFIELD: But if you're not Kelly, that doesn't make you feel very good, does it?

CATE: It probably doesn't. But you know who probably does make feel good is Mike Pence, because he's waiting in the wings and I know he's ready for the big administration shakeup that may be coming after Mueller and if Mueller is allowed to do his job like it's intended.

WHITFIELD: So, Jack, you know, is the, you know, President kind of, you know, getting signals that there is going to be a significant shakeup and that would involve his chief of staff?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he is because I think you phrase it right, it was a lukewarm endorsement. He did say it on Secretary Nielsen that he wished that she was tougher and the border as you know is very frustrating to all parties, to all presidents, so dealing with it is difficult.

[15:40:02] But when he says he wants her to be tougher and you got that caravan pending down, I think there is a clear signal there.

I think on John Kelly, what he has done has great in terms of bringing an order to the White House. But I know these are burnout jobs. They're really for what their responsibilities are, they're very low paying jobs and they're 70-hour a week grueling work schedules. So I think it's sort of natural for people to maybe mutually agree to move on after a two-year mark.

WHITFIELD: Well, the President wasn't very specific about, you know, those, you know, find qualities, those attributes except that, you know, yes, he worked hard. It seems like he either was renascent about answering the question of struggling with answering the question. How did you see it, Jack?

KINGSTON: Well, I think, you know, from an outside standpoint that compared to Reince Priebus who did a good job, but also sort of got things going that I think General Kelly has brought a lot of stability and maturity and the old term gravitas to the White House and it's something that has been needed, you know, part of the process is to move on to another version and that is very possible.

I know the name Nick Ayers who is the vice president's chief of staff, his name gets batted around and he's a very capable young guy who can put in the 80-hour workweek if necessary. And I'm not saying General Kelly hasn't, but if General Kelly chooses to the part he certainly has earned that right after such a long distinguished career.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then a week after, you know, Veterans Day weekend and the President, you know, skipping a visit to Arlington when he came back from Paris, he actually made a very rare expression of regret in that interview on Fox News today. Listen.


TRUMP: I should have done that. I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling, as you know.

WALLACE: But this is Veterans Day.

TRUMP: I probably -- you know, in retrospect, I should have and I did last year and I will virtually every year. But we had come in very late at night and I had just left literally the American cemetery in Paris and I really probably assumed that was fine. And I was extremely busy because of affairs of state, doing other things.


WHITFIELD: So, Kevin, how would that explanation sit with vets?

CATE: Well, first, I think it's amazing that the congressman put the words maturity and White House in regards to this White House in the same sentence. But on the Veterans thing, I mean, you played that sound byte and right after that went after Admiral McRaven in a vicious incorrect fault.

WHITFIELD: Who oversaw the operation of removing -- killing Osama bin Laden. Yes, go ahead.

CATE: Correct. And in Donald Trump's mind, I'm sure he's done -- he said -- done more for the military than anyone ever, you know, I don't know, Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington, I'm sure there's other examples that the congressman can think of. But this just another example of him not self reflecting, he has no self reflection.

He's trying to entertain the crowd and distract away because he pivoted immediately to an incorrect, inappropriate attack on a former Navy SEAL, someone who led the charge to kill Osama bin Laden.

KINGSTON: Kevin, accept his apology. But, Kevin, accept his apology. I mean, every now and then he admits, you know what, the President sincerely apologized for it. And by the way, I agree that he should have gone there on Veterans Day. I was in office for 22 years, represented five military installations. I always did it. It's fundamental for politicians. In fact, many years ago I was visiting troops in Kosovo with President Clinton right before Thanksgiving and I asked him why we did not stay for Thanksgiving and he said philosophically the American president should be home on Thanksgiving.


WHITFIELD: But, Jack, from quick, you know, accepting his apology but, you know, the President professes to be, you know, all about the military, all about the vets and these are now at least, you know, three examples in which he's received criticism as it pertains to vets as military in just one week.

JACKSON: But when you think about what he -- and I do disagree with Kevin. His veteran reform bills have been incredible. I've never seen anything like it in the decades that I've been in Washington and they had huge bipartisan support.

Veterans now have more benefits. They have more health care options than they ever had. In terms of military spending, he -- it was hollowed out under President Obama and he has --

CATE: That's not true.

JACKSON: -- refunded the military. Well, that's the not for those of us who actually served on the committee.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Jack Kingston, Kevin Cate, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

CATE: Thanks, Fredricka.

KINGSTON: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, still much more straight ahead at the Newsroom, but first, be sure to check out the all new episode of "This is Life with Lisa Ling."


LISA LING, "THIS IS LIFE", HOST: Who is Captain Boons (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a creation out of necessity to evolve myself, to give myself more confidence. When I'm become Boons, he gets a lot of attention. Boons has got game.

[15:45:03] LING: Like he's popular with the ladies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. It could be the accent. It could be the dreads.

LING (voice-over): Shawn has taken Boons to comic book conventions and tested out his persona online. The feedback has been overwhelming.

(on camera) What's it like to inhabit this other persona that is confident and fearless?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like going on vacation, everything that I carry with me and all of the issues that I can't escape from.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It kind of gets toned down. Boons is definitely one of the major coping mechanisms that I've come up with.


WHITFIELD: Catch an all new episode of "This is Life with Lisa Ling" tonight, 10:00 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.


[15:50:26] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The Department of Education wants to change how it deals with sexual assault and harassment on college campuses by strengthening the rights of the alleged perpetrators. New proposed rules would narrow the definition of sexual misconduct in an effort to prevent false accusations from going to court.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says, and I'm quoting now, "Every survivor of sexual violence must be taken seriously. And every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined."

Under the Obama administration, the definition of sexual harassment was, I'm quoting now, "Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature." Under the proposed changes, it would read, "Unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offense that it denies a person access to the school's education program or activity."

Lots of questions here. Jess Davidson joining me now. She is the interim executive director for the organization to "End Rape on Campus," and she is a sexual assault survivor herself. Good to see you, Jess.

JESS DAVIDSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, "END RAPE ON CAMPUS": Thank you so much for having me on, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So how do you read that new definition? What does it mean to you, the proposal coming from the new Education Department Secretary?

DAVIDSON: You know, we have an unquestionable crisis of sexual violence in education in this country. One in every five women, one in every 16 men, and far higher rates of queer, transgender, students of color experience sexual assaults in education. That's contact sexual assault, not even sexual harassment, which as you mentioned, the definition is more limited here.

Meanwhile, all of those people who experience sexual violence, the millions of students who experience sexual violence and harassment every single year in school are not being protected by this proposal. This proposal is going to make it harder for survivors to report, easier for schools to take action, and --

WHITFIELD: Yes. How, in your view, because the -- you know, because it is unclear what defines, you know, severe, you know, pervasive? What about this definition, in your view, changes the dynamics?

DAVIDSON: There are a couple of key things. The first is that this definition of sexual harassment, which in my view is unlawful, is so high that students will have already had to lose access to their education before they can seek help.

I'm thinking about, you know, young girls of color who experience high rates of school push out for sexual harassment in the classroom. They will have had to already have lost equal access to education, which title nine, allow this regulation is about, is set to protect. They'll have already had to lose that access before they can receive any assistance from the school.

But there's also so many other ways in which this regulation is set out to keep students from reporting sexual assault at all. This isn't about making the process more fair. They're trying to prevent access to the process itself.

One example of this is how the rule prevents schools from investigating events that take place in many off-campus settings where sexual assault takes place, like bars or off-campus party, the way that it handles mediation, that way that it handles who you can report to.

Under this rule, students who experience sexual assault at Michigan State and reported to coaches, the school would have no obligation to investigate the actions of Larry Nassar under this rule because of how limited and narrowing these definitions from the department are.

WHITFIELD: Are you exploring ways in which to try to help influence the Department of Education before this proposal actually becomes, you know, the rule?

DAVIDSON: Absolutely. We have the next 60 days from once this is introduced in the federal register. It's not quite in the register yet. We've just seen the rule so far. In the coming days, it will be on And we actually have the ability under the Administrative Procedure Act to stop this from becoming law.

We're encouraging people to go to where "End Rape on Campus" and "Know Your IX" to use led survivor, led organizations have built, spent the last year building of tools so that anybody can submit a comment and that comment will count under the law.

And if that comment counts, it matches the requirements of the APA, then the Department of Education is legally required to take it into consideration. So you better bet we're going to be making young people's voices heard.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jess Davidson, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

DAVIDSON: Thank you for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead for us, the destruction unimaginable. Wildfires continue to rage in California as tens of thousands brace for the next move. The latest from the ground, coming up.


[15:59:30] WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The calamity of the California wildfires and the numbers are simply staggering. Across the state, 79 people are dead, 1,300 missing. The so-called Camp Fire in Northern California now the deadliest and most destructive in state history. Search and rescue teams are painstakingly combing through ashes as those forced out of their homes wonder what's next for them.


ROBERT GOODMA, ESCAPED WOOLSEY FIRE: My house burned down, lost everything. It's the pictures, life on your kids, you know, growing up. The report card, the first, you know, pictures they drew and all that. That you can't replace.


WHITFIELD: President Trump witnessing the devastation first hand this weekend when he visited the towns of Paradise and Malibu --