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Sen. Mitch McConnell Saying Nothing At all; California Wildfire Threatens Reagan Library; Wildfires Sweep Across California. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 30, 2019 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: As we already seen today, Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has plenty to say on how Democrats are conducting the inquiry. But when it comes to the findings and what witnesses are actually saying, Senator McConnell has been leading a masters class on saying nothing at all, definitely not answer the questions for reporters.

Listen to this from a press conference yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Colonel Vindman said what he heard on the president's call, that the conversation was undermining U.S. national security. Does it concern you? Are you worried about the president's behavior at all?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Look, I'm not going to question the patriotism of any of the people who are coming forward. The action is in the House now.

I think the vote that they're now going to have to open the impeachment inquiry will be very interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But what do you make of these allegations?

MCCONNELL: As I said, I'm not going to comment on the merits of what's going forward.


BOLDUAN: Remember, the question was, are you worried about the president's behavior at all.

And important to note, this was just after President Trump had said the Republicans need to do more to attack Democrats on the substance of the impeachment inquiry, on the investigation, basically on exactly what the reporter is asking ability.

FOX news host, Laura Ingraham, seemed to take note, weighing in with this message last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST: A Senate majority leader must start using his power to stand up against the Democrat's political reign of terror.

Republicans in the Senate need to step up or get out.

If Democrats can impeach a president under these facts in a star chamber process and your response is we're powerless, then maybe you didn't deserve the majority in the first place.


BOLDUAN: Let's get back to capitol hill. CNN's Phil Mattingly is there.

Phil, what are you hearing about this? McConnell has a strategy for everything. So what's the strategy here?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not many people can get inside the majority leader's head. So I'm not going to try to do so right now.

BOLDUAN: You can. Go ahead. Go ahead.


MATTINGLY: I think, in watching the majority leader over a number of years and recognizing what's going on here, there are three key things that I think you need to keep in mind.

First and foremost, as you noted when it comes to the House process, he's not hesitating to rip Nancy Pelosi and what Democrats are doing. To some degree, he's concerned about the process but also it throws a little red meat out there.

The second is, the fact that he's not willing to answer questions on the substance, comes from the fact that he is going to be a juror. I don't think there's any question about that. The House is likely to pass articles of impeachment.

You are seeing a lot of Republicans and, frankly, a lot of Democrats in the United States Senate trying to keep their powder dry in that regard.

Keep in mind, the majority leader is very cognizant of where his conference is. He doesn't want to get out in front of where his members are. Some members, who are up for re-election in states right now are kind of 50-50.

He doesn't want to put them in position by giving people sound to go to them and say the majority leader says this, what do you think about that. He is keeping his powder dry in that regard as well.

I think the third thing to always keep in mind with McConnell, as he kind of goes through this, he knows it's coming down the pike.

Regarding what Laura Ingraham said, he does have that power. He can state or utilize that power when it's in his hand. It's not in his hands at the moment. Therefore, he is letting things play out to that degree.

Always with McConnell, keep in mind, he is trying to protect his conference, he's trying to protect his majority. He understands, at some time, he has to be a jerk.

One follow-up caveat is important. This is not a McConnell thing. This is Republicans in general. They don't know what's coming next. A lot of frustration we've heard is they don't know what the next witness will say, what will come out of the administration at this point in time.

When it comes to the substance, everybody is keeping their powder dry not because they are jurors, but because they have no idea what's coming next and don't want to get too far out in front of things, given how things have progressed in the last couple of weeks.

BOLDUAN: The question is, how long can they keep that powder dry? You will find out. You will be the first to know.

Thanks, buddy. Great to see you.

Coming up, hurricane-force winds. Millions under a historic red-flag warning. Live pictures in California. Now new evacuation orders are in place in California as firefighters are trying to contain wildfires sweeping across the state. We will go there, next.



BOLDUAN: Yet, another example of how dangerous and unpredictable the California wildfires have become. Another fire just sparked up this morning near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

That is where CNN's Bill Weir is right now.

Bill, what are you seeing there?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you can see, this is called the Easy Fire. It started near Easy Street, ironically.

But these gusts are so powerful, 40, 50, 60-mile-an-hour Santa Ana winds howling through these canyons. It's pushing it so fast.

And no place seems to be safe. Of course, the pressures artwork inside the Getty Museum, the point of concern. It's fortified and safe.

We think it's the same in this case here. To give you perspective, this is the Reagan Library. Right in there's Air Force One. This has been the site of presidential debates on CNN in the past. Yet, another symbolic setting for a grim new reality in California.

Since Ronald Reagan was president, wildfire season has gotten hotter and many people, about 40, 50 years ago, a thousand acres on a bad fire season. Last year it's two million acres.

Again, a place like the Reagan Library, fortified against these sorts of things. But the topography here, the vegetation here, not as concerning as the timber country up in northern California.

But from the fires in Sonoma to the Hills above Los Angeles, now here in Simi Valley, it seems like this is not getting better any time soon.

Of course, in addition to the smoke in the air, the air pollution, the stress of evacuating yet another evacuation zone, you have people dealing with those rolling blackouts. PG&E, Pacific Gas and Electric, captures so much wrath from the public. They are shutting down huge swaths of their service areas to prevent more fires from sparking out there in the wildland.

But Governor Newsom and the heads of PG&E are catching such grief. It seems like they're using a sledgehammer instead of a surgeon's knife to address some of these problems.

But to give you a sense of the scope of the problem in California, Governor Newsom campaigned for a bond issue to put $10 billion of public money into a big pot to help these publicly or these investor- owned companies bail out of bankruptcy because of all of the liability that comes from these fires.

They need to fortify something like 7,000 miles of vulnerable power lines in the state. This year, they managed 100 miles.

Whoa. And there goes a bomber right on queue. We've seen helicopters coming through, super soakers dropping retardant, trying to contain this.

Whoa, it's raining down over here.


Watch yourselves.

That one just caught the edge of the roof here of the Reagan Library.

We are seeing troops - (INAUDIBLE) -- from the state, something like two dozen different fire departments, county, different municipalities pitching in. Cal Fire as well. All hands on deck, Kate.

It's just amazing.

BOLDUAN: I mean --

WEIR: You never know where the next one will spring up.

BOLDUAN: You never know -- as we have been watching you, we are seeing -- it appears the wind direction is changing. Now it looks like this smoke is upon you rather than moving away from you.

And I was going to say --

WEIR: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- firefighters have been struggling all along to try to get ahead of it and contain these fires. This is a perfect example of why. Watching you, unfortunately, is the human barometer of how strong the winds are there. It's pretty remarkable.

WEIR: But here's a startling fact that I just learned. In the history of Cal Fire, they have never been able to contain, fully stop a fire being fed by Santa Ana winds. All they can do is wait for the weather to change and try to fortify human life and precious -- (INAUDIBLE) -- like the Reagan Library. That is a stunning thing.

You stand in it and you see it swirl, as you mentioned, it's no wonder you can't stop a fire like this. And the winds are only supposed to get harder and more fierce as the climate crisis expands, as things dry out like this. It's a little taste of the challenge of living in paradise these days.

BOLDUAN: A terrifying example. Now it looks like the sun has set because of how thick and dark the smoke is mind you. Bill, the terrifying dangerous image of the new normal is as we look at the climate crisis.

Bill, thank you. Be careful. I know you will be. But thank you so much.

We'll be right back.

WEIR: You bet.



BOLDUAN: Let's get back to California and the raging wildfires that are hammering the state, both ends of the state.

CNN's Bill Weir is still with me. I believe he can still hear me. He's at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.

Bill, we last spoke all of 3 minutes ago. It seems like conditions have gotten markedly worse. What's happening?

WEIR: Yes. It's completely - (INAUDIBLE). For perspective, this is the Reagan Library. Marine One, the old Air Force One inside the main atrium there, which is, of course, the final resting place of the president and first lady. It is safe. It is a concrete, fortified, fireproof building.

This is an amazing vantage point to see how these Santa Ana winds behave. (INAUDIBLE). It gives you fresh appreciation for the pilots and these other agencies. (INAUDIBLE) -- these 70 miles an hour, 60 miles an hour gusts and trying to precisely drop liquid. (INAUDIBLE).

They also have helicopters that are sort of flying, air traffic controllers. (INAUDIBLE).

But you can see and you can even hear the flames. This chaparral, the grass, all this brush, a lot of it's invasive. That's the problem. Climate crisis.

Scientists don't even know what California will look like in about 2050 because they think so much of the state will have burned and they don't know what will replace it. It's impossible to model out what this place is going to look like in the middle of this century.

But again, this is a very different kind of fire than the ones they're seeing up north in timber country. The Camp Fire was so tragic. (INAUDIBLE) -- surrounded by all this heavy timber. Here, of course, much more grassland. These sort of defensible spaces, this is the new norm.

When you think about it, in hindsight, Smokey the Bear lied to us. We can't prevent forest fires. Oh, you can see -- (INAUDIBLE) -- over there. We can't prevent them. This is a natural cycle of the ecosystem of California. But for generations, humanity has tried to contain it.

If you go for so long without a natural system, man, you get these big ones. And they blow up fast.

Now you can just see --


BOLDUAN: This one just igniting just this morning. And this one just igniting just this morning.

WEIR: Yes. And it could have been a spark from a flat tire. You know, it could have been a tree branch going into the power line.


That's the thing. The state is so vulnerable and there's so much growth in these wilderness areas the last few generations with no real regard for a climate like this to where fire seasons don't give you a break anymore.

These relentless firestorms that we're seeing now are going to change the way people live in this state. It's already changing insurance rates. They're talking about zoning law changes and all of that.


WEIR: But it's a horrible day for the people in these neighborhoods -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And you're now in the thick of it right there, Bill.

Bill, stay safe as always. Thank you so much.

This is all really picking up. We're going to have much more on these wildfires, where Bill Weir is in the center of it all now, after a quick break.