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AT THIS HOUR

2 Powerful Winter Storms Threaten Millions Across U.S.; China Vows Retaliation after Trump Signs Hong Kong Bills Backing Protesters; North Korea Fires Rockets Amid Stalled Nuclear Talks with U.S.; Former Trump Official Who Promoted Fringe Conspiracy Theories Now a State Department Advisor; Climatologists Issue Dire Warning; Evacuations in Texas after Chemical Plant Explosions. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired November 28, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:32:28]

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's not quite Thanksgiving without the Macy's Day Parade. And on that front, there's plenty to be thankful for this morning. Mother Nature behaved, the wind stayed calm and the balloons were cleared for takeoff. Some new characters flying through the streets this morning, flying little lower than general.

While the skies held out over the parade, there are millions of you across the country who are still waking up to some sort of winter watch, a warning or advisory as two powerful storms hit, bringing blackouts, white outs and flash floods that could last through the holiday weekend.

Keeping track of it all is CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers.

Chad, what are you keeping an eye on today and through the weekend?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You never like a colorful weather map. When you have to use too many colors, there's too many things going on, rain, snow, ice, wind, snowstorm going to develop in the plains, northern plains going to pick up a foot of snow or more, and then that snow gets to New York and New England for your drive home on Sunday.

So, let's get to it. The biggest story right now is probably not in the plains. It's how bad the weather is in L.A. right now. And it's just a mess. Rain everywhere. Snow in the mountains, about 3,000 feet and higher. It's all snow. Some of the passes are closed. The Grapevine is closed.

We still have these watches and warnings for the next couple of hours and in some spots here across the parts of Colorado for the next couple days because the storm is going to develop.

Here is how it happens. Rain and wind in the southwest right now. Moisture in the eastern part of that, but they will get together and move up toward the northeast. This is going to become a snow event for Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, maybe even -- maybe not so much Oklahoma on the backside of it, but certainly up on the north side with North Dakota and South Dakota.

The issue is when we get to 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, and you're trying to get home across the turnpike into Pennsylvania. It's going to be icy. And then the rest of the day, New England, New York snowy and icy, too.

A slow get home Sunday for sure. Try to get home on Saturday if you can -- Alex?

MARQUARDT: Chad, thank you very much.

[11:34:35]

Still ahead, China is vowing to retaliate after President Trump signed a new law backing the protesters in Hong Kong. Could it derail trade talks? That's next.

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MARQUARDT: Demonstrations happening today in Hong Kong but with a small twist. The protesters are thanking America. It comes hours after President Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The law requires the U.S. to confirm each year that Hong Kong retains its special autonomous status.

And the Chinese government blasted the president's actions, saying it seriously interferes with China's internal affairs violates international law. And China threatened countermeasures if the U.S. doesn't change course.

[11:40:06]

All this happening as Beijing and Washington are still trying to strike a major trade deal.

Joining me now to discuss this is David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst.

David, thank you for joining me.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Great to be with you and happy Thanksgiving, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And to you, my friend.

I want to start with these new bills. In fact, there are two of them. One looks at sanctions for people who violate human rights, the other at what can be sold to Hong Kong police.

So, what is it actually mean in concrete terms for those people out on the streets? And do you think that it means that the president is on their side?

SANGER: Well, certainly the president made clear he had hesitations about signing this bill. He did not commit to signing it until it was put in front of him. And it had such an overwhelming bipartisan vote in both the House and

the Senate that he really had no choice, Alex. If he had vetoed this, the veto almost certainly would have been overridden. It was similar to the reason he had to sign a Russia sanctions bill back in 2017.

So faced with the inevitable, he signed it, and then seemed to try to split the difference in his comments. Saying, that Xi Jinping was a good friend. I'm not sure how friendship impinges on what Xi's record is in regard to human rights. Of course, that's what matters to the president. Then also saying he wanted an amicable solution to this.

It has a symbolic value. The Chinese government will be hesitant to go do something particularly violent if they know these are the sanctions that were threatened even before a major crackdown.

But, the president's got great latitude in this about whether or not he would actually designate anybody to be a human rights violator.

And I don't think the Hong Kong police were terribly reliant on U.S. equipment for their tear gas and rubber bullets.

MARQUARDT: The president saying he signed these bills as a sign of respect for President Xi. I'm not sure he's taking it that way.

SANGER: Yes.

MARQUARDT: But, David, I want to move on to another topic, one of your many areas of expertise, North Korea. North Korea reportedly firing two projectiles into the sea this morning. Rather alarmingly, South Korea's military said they came from a super-large-caliber multiple-rocket launcher.

Now, David, as you know, this is the 14th weapon test of the year. Is there anything to be read into the symbolism of this happening on a big U.S. national holiday, North Korea perhaps sending a message on the nuclear talks from for all intents and purposes are stalled?

SANGER: They are stalled, Alex. And I think that the importance here is probably less our Thanksgiving holiday than the approach of North Korea's own deadline, the end of the year.

They have said repeatedly that if there was not significant progress on the nuclear talks by December 31st, they would return to some kind of significant action. They have not -- never quite said what that would be.

But the guessing within U.S. intelligence is that it would be an end to this period of short-range tests, which, while concerning to the South Koreans, aren't really a violation of anything the North committed to.

But instead, a return to a testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile or some kind of long-range missile that would once again put us back to where we were before the president held this Singapore summit this June of 2018. And that is to say, proving that the North Koreans could reach the

United States. And I think that could create a pretty good size crisis just as the presidents dealing with all these impeachment issues.

MARQUARDT: David, I want to get your thoughts on another troubling issue. New reporting from the "Washington Post" about an official who spread fringe conspiracy theories, now working at the State Department as a senior adviser. His name is Frank Wuco.

In fact, CNN's "KFILE" last year found he pushed conspiracy theories that the CIA Director John Brennan converted to Islam and former Attorney General Eric Holder had been a member of the Black Panthers. Now, John Hudson at the "Washington Post" reported that Wuco once suggested dropping nuclear bombs on Afghanistan after 9/11.

And he now works in arms control at the State Department. So, what does that tell us about the State Department today under President Trump and Secretary Pompeo?

SANGER: Well, it's a great question, Alex. This official had previously worked in the Department of Homeland Security, I believe. And some of his comments were revealed that, including by CNN.

I think the bigger question about the State Department that this raises, Alex, is what does it say about a State Department that today can recall an official like Marie Yovanovitch or denounce the testimony of some of its most experienced leaders, and then turn around and have the same hiring system hire somebody with these kinds of views.

[11:45:12]

I'm not worried very much about his influence within the arms control world. The State Departments Arms Control Office is not very busy right now because we've been withdrawing from more arms control deals than we have been negotiating re-entry to.

But you know, this is a State Department that doesn't feel compelled under Secretary Pompeo to explain why it relieved the Ukraine ambassador of her job or why it would hire somebody like this.

MARQUARDT: David Sanger, lots of topics. Thank you for your time and happy Thanksgiving.

SANGER: Happy Thanksgiving. Great to be with you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

Coming up, climatologists are issuing a new dire warning that the new earth climate is in a state of planetary emergency. What researchers say must now be done to prevent irreversible damage.

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[11:50:54] MARQUARDT: It is a dramatic warning we haven't heard before. Scientists now fearing that the earth's climate is nearing a, quote, "global tipping point."

One of the people who has witnessed the dramatic effects of the climate crisis up close is CNN's Arwa Damon, who recently went to the Arctic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We saw firsthand in an Arctic expedition how the ice sheet is shrinking at an alarming rate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the warming of the air temperatures which are melting the ice from the top, but now you seem to have an increased warming signal from underneath. So the sea ice is being compromised from both sides.

DAMON: It's almost inconceivable. But we have declared war on our planet through the poisons we have released into land, water, and the atmosphere. Assaulting Mother Nature on multiple fronts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Arwa joins me now from Istanbul.

Arwa, this is the latest in a stream of really profoundly worrying reports on our climate. What else does this one say?

DAMON: This one is really trying to stress and underscore the reality that we don't have time at this stage.

What they're talking about with these tipping points, a tipping point is basically defined as an area or event that once we reach that point, there's no turning back. There's no way to actually reverse the effects of what this climate crisis has done in that area.

They have identified about nine of them from the ice sheet in the Arctic down to the Antarctic to the permafrost in Russia to areas in North America.

They have also highlighted how none of these areas, when they reach the tipping point does that happen in isolation. They have to deal with the direct effect of that and then nothing else. No. There are constant changes that are happening as these various areas are reaching those tipping points or, in fact, going beyond them.

The Atlantic current, one of the main Atlantic currents, cited as an example, Alex, it's the current that takes heat from the south to the north. That's slowing down. That has dramatic effects on the earth's overall climate.

We're not talking about, you know, the crazy weather events we are seeing or the droughts we're hearing about. We are talking about something that researchers are warning we have not yet seen. That's how drastic they expect the situation to be if we don't do something about this now.

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MARQUARDT: Arwa, thank you for breaking that down. We know you'll stay on the story.

[11:53:46]

Still ahead, thousands of people are under mandatory evacuation orders and spending Thanksgiving away from home after a series of explosions at a chemical plant in Texas. We're live there with an update.

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[11:58:39]

MARQUARDT: One city in Texas is under a mandatory evacuation order this morning after being rocked by a series of explosions at a local chemical plant. Look at that. Thousands of residents are spending Thanksgiving away from their homes.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now.

Ed, we are looking at the pictures now. What's the situation as it stands?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been almost 34 hours, Alex, since the explosion occurred setting off this fire that's been raging for some time.

Investigators and firefighters there on the scene say they are trying to contain the fire from spreading to other tanks containing volatile chemicals and keep the fire from spreading. They are waiting for the chemicals to burn out so they can finish extinguishing the fire.

The great concern right now is for the residents in the immediate area around the chemical plant. A four-mile radius around the plant is under a mandatory evacuation. Even yesterday afternoon, there was a second explosion. So tense times there in that town in Texas.

MARQUARDT: Our thoughts are with the residents of that town there.

Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

And that will do it for me. Thank you very much for joining me. Have a very happy Thanksgiving.

[11:59:58]

"INSIDE POLITICS" with Nia-Malika Henderson starts right now.