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Evacuations Underway Over Flooding; Tornadoes Over the Past 30 Days Across the U.S.; Supreme Court Upholds Ruling in Indiana; Trump Targets Biden; Climbers Die on Mount Everest. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 28, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. A busy news day. Stay there. Brianna Keilar starts RIGHT NOW.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, from the Midwest to the northeast, millions of Americans on high alert as the risk of tornadoes climbs.

Chaos on the world's tallest mountain as the death toll rises. Climbers are in the final hours of a window to reach the summit.

Plus, President Trump attacks former Vice President Joe Biden on the 1994 Crime Bill. Could Biden's weakness politically benefit Trump despite the president's checkered past on the issues of race and justice.

And as the president considers pardoning war criminals, a sitting U.S. congressman admits he took pictures with enemy corpses.

First up, more than 100 million Americans are at risk today for severe potentially deadly weather. And that means tornado, large hail, damaging winds, heavy flooding. The threat follows this line of destruction in Ohio. The National Weather Service believes that three tornadoes touched down in western Ohio, two of them in the Dayton area. One resident said it only took 20 seconds for his house to be ripped to shreds.

One of the hardest hit area is the town of Celina, where one person was killed and seven were injured. Here's how a man there described the moments before it hit his house.


RICK BERTKE, STORM SURVIVOR: You know, like they always say, like a freight train. I've heard it before. And when I heard this, I told my wife, in the basement now. Then we heard all kinds of stuff hitting the house. And after it was over, we just couldn't believe it.


KEILAR: Tornadoes are just one of the big threats that people there are facing.

Oklahoma and Arkansas are also bracing for historic flooding. You can see these images here. And it's hard to believe that this situation is going to get worse. More rain is on the way and parts of the Arkansas River could soon crest four feet above the record.

CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera is in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

And, Ed, tell us what authorities there are saying.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're really urging people here, Brianna, to be aware of their surroundings, be able to evacuate as quickly as possible if needed. Although, in the last 24 hours, much of that has already happened.

This is one particular neighborhood just west of Tulsa. As you mentioned, we're in Sand Springs. And this is just a few miles away from the Keystone Dam, where 275,000 cubic feet of water is being released from that damn every second. And to give you some perspective on that -- what that might mean, kind of help you understand that number, that's about three Olympic-sized swimming pools being shot out of that dam every second.

So this is where some of this water is ending up, in neighborhoods like this. If you see the drone shots we have from this neighborhood, several does homes taking on anywhere between two to six feet of water. Residents describe it kind of as a helpless feeling, simply just standing here on the water's edge watching it slowly creep up and creep up, wondering how long it's going to take before it all starts to go away.

But that's the question that lingers here because forecasters say there's more rain expected tonight and into tomorrow, which could cause more of this water to continue rising. It really depends on where this rainfall ends up coming down, whether or not it will affect the areas that are already affected. But the water is expected to crest here tomorrow in the Tulsa area and then downstream on the Arkansas River, into western Arkansas in the Fort Smith area. That's -- the river there is expected to crest in the next couple of days, perhaps as much of another five feet of rise there in the Arkansas River.

So very treacherous time and a very stressful time for many of the residents who live along these rivers in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

KEILAR: It's unimaginable with the forecast there.

All right, Ed, we know you'll be following this. Thank you so much.

The weather where Ed is, Oklahoma, that state is 150 percent above its average rainfall. And in the last 30 days alone, there have been more than 500 reports of tornadoes across the U.S.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera has been tracking all of these storm system. And, Ivan, the weather sure seems unusual. It is unusual. What's

happening here?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No question about it, it's unusual. It's rare. It doesn't happen often. And what we have, Brianna, here is -- for the same reason we have an atmospheric traffic jam. Essentially the jet stream hasn't moved its position. And so that has led to all the tornadoes we've been talking about and all the flooding that Ed's been showing you there. So long as this pattern exists, we're going to continue with the same weather.

It will break finally in a couple of days, but I still think we have today and tomorrow to get through. And this is what we've been talking about here, 500-plus tornado reports in the last 30 days. That does not happen often. In fact, it's only happened four times since we've been keeping records. Notice the years here, not in the '50s, not in the '60s, not in the '70s. So as the climate continues to warm, you're going to get these kind of patterns here, and you're going to get that jet stream to sometimes get stuck, and that's exactly what we're in right now.

[13:05:04] Look at this, 934 since January itself. That's through this season. So we're 26 percent above average. So if it seems weird as far as the weather, it absolutely is, no question about it.

Oh, and then there's this, another day of violent weather for today for the same areas that have been hit hard over the last several days. And it's already getting going here. We now have brand-new severe thunderstorm watch in -- essentially for northeastern Missouri and portions of Illinois as well. This is just going to continue to expand as we head through later this afternoon and evening.

Another dangerous day for us today and for tomorrow and then finally, as we head into Thursday and Friday, we'll begin to see this pattern changing and things calming down a bit. But not before, I think, we have a lot more storms and tornadoes on the ground this afternoon.

KEILAR: All right. Ivan, thank you so much for that.

CABRERA: You bet.

KEILAR: Now, let's turn now to the Supreme Court, because today it ruled on an important abortion rights case from Indiana. The justices let stand a lower court's ruling blocking the state's ban on abortions motivated by race, sex or disability. It was signed into law by then Governor Mike Pence in 2016 and they let stand a part of the law that requires clinics bury or cremate the fetal remains.

We have Ariane de Vogue here to talk about this.

This decision is coming just as Louisiana is joining states passing very restrictive abortion laws. Many of them are banning abortion after six weeks. Does this ruling give us any insight on how those challenges to these new laws may be handled by this court?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, we've been waiting for weeks to see how the Supreme Court was going to deal with these two provisions of this Indiana law. And today we learned, and we also got a few hints, right, and so they allowed that one provision to go into effect that says that fetal remains have to be buried or cremated. And opponents said there's no reason for that. And it increases the psychological cost on women. But the justices allowed it to go into effect.

On the other hand, they did uphold a lower court opinion that blocked a more controversial position, and that's the one that said that states can prohibit solely on race and sex and disability of the fetus.

But what we really saw here is the far right of the bench and the far left. They drew their battle lines. We saw Justice Clarence Thomas saying, look, I understand what the court did today. I agreed. Maybe this issue on that more restrictive law has to percolate a little bit in the lower courts. But the Supreme Court can't wait forever. None of the other conservatives joined him on that.

And then we saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who said, look, we would have blocked both from going into effect.

So we learned really that today was a small step, but the battle lines have been drawn.

KEILAR: And there was another case. This was a case that involved a Pennsylvania school district's policy on transgender students in bathrooms. What happened?

DE VOGUE: And so in that case, the Supreme Court did not step in and they didn't comment, but they didn't step in. And that means that that lower court opinion will stand for now. And, of course, everybody's waiting to see that issue because coming in the wings there's going to be more and more questions about the definition of federal law on the discrimination of sex and whether or not it includes gender identity.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be watching with you.

Thank you so much for bringing that to us. Ariane de Vogue.

And to presidential politics now. Former Vice President Joe Biden is getting hit from the right and the left over a law that he helped write 25 years ago, the 1994 Crime Bill. In a tweet President Trump said Biden was heavily involved in passing the bill, and he calls it a dark period in American history. He says, anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African-Americans will not be able to vote for you.

Joining me now we have CNN political commentator Van Jones with us from New York.

Van, you were instrumental, along with Jared Kushner, in pushing the Criminal Justice Reform Bill that President Trump signed late last year. The president, it must be said when we're talking about this topic, has a checked past when it comes to race and justice.


KEILAR: This back and forth and his targeting of Joe Biden and what is really a vulnerability, what do you think about this?

JONES: Well, look, I mean politicians play politics and that's interesting. But, for me, let's just take a step back. This is historic. We now have the president of the United States and a Democratic front-runner competing on who can be the best on criminal justice reform. For my entire adult life, the parties have been racing who can put the most people in prison, who can be the toughest on crime and now you have them both arguing and debating, no, I'll be better at reform, I'll be better at reform.

So as silly as some of this stuff is, I mean, obviously, you know, Trump can't say to, you know, Biden, well, you know, because of your past, nobody can vote for you. You can go back and forth on that.

But fundamentally what you've got is a historic watershed that is now showing up in the presidential election. Both parties now are trying to move in the direction of reform.

[13:10:04] Now, listen, if they want to go record to record, here's reality. Trump can say, I was better than the Obama administration on legislation because he passed the First Step Act. But he's worse than the Obama administration on administration. In other words, the Department of Justice under Trump has been -- has actually gone backwards in a lot of ways, has not implemented the First Step Act well enough.

So Trump can be strong and say, I'm better than you on legislation. Biden can say, I was better at you on administration. So they both have strengths, they both have weaknesses. But I am just jumping up and down because we now have both parties saying they want to do better. And that's a good thing. And I -- and I will say this as well, we've got to give Trump credit where credit is due. He did fight hard to pass the bill and he made it possible for other Republicans to also be in the pro-criminal justice camp. That is a positive thing.

Now, he's going to play politics with it. That's what politicians do. But now you have two parties that are healthy, and that's good.

KEILAR: So, OK, you're saying -- I here you're saying there's a silver lining in this. Maybe even a gold lining, as you're describing it. But the politics of this, I'm curious what you think about this, because, look, we know Trump, when you look at his past, he's not the ideal messenger on the issue of criminal justice despite the signing of the recent bill, right? He took out full-page ads. He called for the dealt penalty of the Central Park Five, those five teens who were convicted in the rape of the Central Park jogger in 1989. And then, when they were exonerated, after spending years in prison, he still questioned their innocence. And he's talking about --

JONES: And he's still --

KEILAR: He's -- saying to Joe Biden, has he apologized. So I guess this is my question, though, politically speaking, does that matter because his supporters don't really seem dissuaded by that. But on the flip side, will Democratic voters be deterred from supporting Biden for his past with the crime bill?

JONES: This is going to play itself out over a period of time. Obviously -- you know, Trump owes a lot of people apologies. If he wants to encourage Biden to apologies, Biden probably will get around to apologizing for it. You know, Bill Clinton has. I think Hillary Clinton has. But if we're going to go down the apology tour road, I mean he -- he still -- Trump still has not apologized to the Central Park victims, Central Park jogger, a mishandled case. So, you know, that stuff will go back and forth.

From here -- here's what I wanted to add as well. Look, you now have an opportunity, I think, for Biden to get out of this situation. He should -- he's going to have to resist the temptation to go back and say, well, listen, this part of the bill was good and that part wasn't good and whatever. Just say, listen, we did the best we could at that time. We made some mistakes. Here's what we tried to do under the Obama administration to make it better. Republicans stopped us. And here's what I would do if I were there.

KEILAR: OK, but let's --

JONES: If Biden -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

KEILAR: I was going to say, well, let's look -- and I -- I hear what you're saying there because we've been discussing this, how does he negotiate this issue and this record? But, you know, especially for you, someone who works advocating for criminal justice reform. When you, on the issue of mass incarceration, listen to Biden and he says -- I mean very counter to what you're saying that he should be doing, he says the '94 Crime Bill did not generate mass incarceration. That is what he said.

So I mean what do you say to that statement. That certainly is not -- that is not handling this issue the way you're saying he should.

JONES: He'll -- he'll get there. He'll get there.

Listen, if I -- I understand why he's defensive. It set the table for -- listen, incarcerations have been going up. It accelerated it. It set the table for states to do more. He'll have to come to terms with that and he'll have to just get his legs under him on that. But he has a case that he can make for himself.

KEILAR: So you're -- but you're saying not that's -- you're saying that's not correct, right, what he said?

JONES: Yes, I'm --

KEILAR: But he has a case to make.

JONES: Yes, listen, listen, if you -- if you get super technical, you can say a lot of the growth in the system that we don't like happened before the '94 Crime Bill and the bill accelerated, and then you had states that take it further. So you can say my bill in particular is not responsible for all the damage. Fine, Mr. Biden, great. That's really not helping him very much because it's so technical.

I think the smarter thing for him to say is, listen, we did the best that we could at the time. We learned. And then you can point to the Obama administration's record. The Obama administration, though they didn't get a bill passed, did a lot at the Department of Justice level. I mean they did a great job there. He should be bragging on what the Obamas did administratively, he should be challenging Trump to -- listen, if you want to be Mr. Criminal Justice President Trump, what you need to do is put back in place the stuff that the Obama/Biden administration had in place at the Department of Justice. And he could have a substantive debate about that and then talk about what he wants to do next. If he gets stuck and tricked by Trump into trying to re-litigate this old bill as opposed to just apologizing for it and bragging on his record under Obama. He's playing into Trump's hands.

But I can't tell you how excited I am that now people are doing all of this around the question of mass incarceration and criminal justice. I mean this is now -- this has gone -- listen, in 2008, this was not on the agenda for Democrats, 2012, not on the agenda for Democrats. It wasn't even on the agenda for Democrats at the national level until 2016. And in 2020, the big heavyweight fight is going to be on this issue, for all the people out there who have been working on this issue for years and years and years and got no attention, lost, had cases lost, lost ballot measures. This is a big deal. This is a good thing. Let them fight this out. I'm so happy. And -- and -- make the Republicans get better. Make the Democrats get better and let's start closing prisons and bring this chapter to a close of mass incarceration in the United States.

[13:15:37] KEILAR: You did everything but throw confetti there, Van Jones.

Thank you -- thank you so much for your perspective. We appreciate it.


KEILAR: And we're going to check you out, your show, Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Be sure to tune into that.

One climber describes seeing death and carnage on Mount Everest as more people put their lives at risk and traffic jams on the money build up.

Plus, a sitting U.S. congressman makes a gruesome admission about what he did in war as the president considering partnering war criminals.

And the legacy of the late Senator John McCain becoming a political football. How the senator who told the story about him is responding to Meghan McCain's criticism.


[13:21:08] KEILAR: An American lawyer is the latest person to die on Mount Everest, bringing the death toll during this year's short climbing season to at least 11. Bad weather has created an even more compressed window of time to make the summit, putting more climbers on the mountain than usual at one time and creating a deadly gridlock in what's called the death zone near the summit. A Canadian filmmaker who was on the mountain posted this on Instagram, quote, I cannot believe what I saw up there. Death. Carnage. Chaos. Lineups. Dead bodies on the route and in tents at camp four. People who I tried to turn back who ended up dying. People being dragged down. Walking over bodies.

With me now from a town near Everest base camp on the Chinese side is Adrian Ballinger. He has done eight Everest summits. This is his 12th season on the mountain.

And, Adrian, you also run your own expedition company. You've come down now from the Everest base camp on your way home. Tell us how this shortened window to climb the mountain, we're talking really here just about a matter of several days, has contributed to this.

ADRIAN BALLINGER, COMPLETED EIGHT SUMMITS OF MOUNT EVEREST: That's right. I -- you know, I really think this season the weather was very special for lack of a better word where instead of having quite a few summit days spreading all over May, everything was condensed because the jet stream sat on top of the mountain for all but three or four days of the season.

And what that really did is it shined a spotlight on the problems that have been growing on Mount Everest in terms of inexperience and an increased number of low-budget companies. And when a very difficult weather scenario presented itself like this, a lot more people got into trouble. And we had these pretty awful traffic jams, especially on the south side of the mountain on the 22nd and 23rd of May.

KEILAR: And have you this area where climbers have to go single file, and they're up in a very dangerous area of the mountain, and it creates this traffic jam, this bottleneck as you've said. You have talked about what needs to be done. You said the government of Nepal should step in. What do you think they should do?

BALLINGER: You know, I desperately think as the popularity of Everest has grown, so have the opportunities for companies to make money on the mountain. And what that has led to is a huge influx of inexperienced operators offering what I would call low-budget products, and enticing inexperienced climbers with beautiful flashy websites and things like that. So there's this series of problems where many of the clients on the mountain are not ready to be there. They don't have enough experience in the big mountains yet and they're being led by Sherpa and guides and expedition leaders who also don't have the experience for when the decisions get really challenging what to do. And this year demonstrated that.

There were very obvious moments when teams should have turned their clients around, their climbers around, or climbers should have turned themselves around. Their desire to summit, combined with potentially they're not really realizing how great the dangers were led people to continue pushing. And being willing to stand, for instance, in a line at the Hillary Step for three hours at 28,000 feet, that -- it's ludicrous. It's terrible decision making. Nothing should be worth doing that because your body is literally dying up there. It cannot survive. And so every minute you spend it becomes harder and harder to get down.

Unfortunately, companies, operators are not managing and regulating themselves and choosing to turn people around and choosing to refuse to bring inexperienced clients to the mountain. And so I believe Nepal, if they want to keep Everest a sacred, special, beautiful place that people aspire to go to, they have to regulate this industry.

[13:25:07] KEILAR: What do you think the chances are that a season like this will drive that home and something will actually happen?

BALLINGER: That is a great question. I think the public outcry has been quite great, but we've had public outcries in the past after the ice fall (ph) accident in 2014 or the earthquake in 2015. We've seen these big accidents before. And, unfortunately, I think Nepal is in a position where they are desperate for the funds that climbers bring in to the country and to so many people who work on the mountain. And so I think it's hard to look at steps that might temporarily reduce some of that income coming in while they make changes. So I -- I have to be honest, I don't see changes happening. And that is the biggest reason that I moved my company and my operation from Nepal to China. While the Chinese side of the mountain is more difficult and colder and windier, I -- you are known the government is taking steps to really manage how many people are on the mountain and what sort of experience they have. And I believe it's a safer and better experience for my clients.

KEILAR: Adrian Ballinger, thank you so much for talking to us.

BALLINGER: Thank you so much for having me.

KEILAR: In a CNN exclusive interview, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a dire warning about the dark forces in Europe and opens up about her relationship with President Trump.

Plus, while trying to defend a Navy SEAL facing charges of war crimes, a Republican congressman admits he's posed for photos with a dead enemy combatant while serving as a Marine. What's the message being sent to the military? We'll discuss.