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At This Hour

Western Heatwave Exacerbates Fire Danger, Pushes CA Grid To The Brink; Soon: Obamas Return To White House For Portrait Unveiling; Arraignment Postponed Of Accused Killer Of Memphis Jogger. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 07, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Now to the relentless heat wave out west, testing states like California in ways really never seen before. The weather is fueling the risk of more fast-moving fires as crews are already battling massive wildfires in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

The intense heat is also pushing California's power grid to the brink. The state narrowly avoided rolling blackouts overnight. Officials declared a stage three energy emergency for several hours asking, how they described it, for maximum conservation by consumers.

CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir here with much more on this. What is happening here?



WEIR: It's relentless. It's holding for longer than people knew in the past and learn of it.


WEIR: But it's also this whiplash. If you look at just Sacramento in the last 11 months, they went through their driest stretch on record, 212 days, while the drop of rain, and then five and a half inches in a single day, which is a record for the most. And now it's the hottest start to a year and now the hottest record ever, 116 degrees in the state capitol there. And they came very close to rolling blackouts yesterday, if not for average folk turning up the thermostat.


WEIR: The air conditioner to maybe 78 or something a little less comfortable than they'd like. But it keeps the whole system from crashing on days like this.

BOLDUAN: But there's also no talk in California of potentially categorizing heat waves like hurricanes. I mean, what is that going to look like and what's it going to do?

WEIR: That's a great question. It's mostly for public education. This has been passed by their legislature. The governor just needs to sign it by so -- by 2025 there'll be rating heat waves, the way you would rank a category three or four, a hurricane. Ironically, there's actually a hurricane off the coast of Mexico that's kicking up right now. It's going to affect folks out there as well.

But yes, you understand evacuating a hurricane, you can see the cone and when it could hit. It's hard to imagine folks evacuating heat waves.


WEIR: Usually, the victims are those who have nowhere to go and don't have access to a cooling center as well. But it may just have to change the mentality about how we think about these events in Seville Spain became the first to name them the way you would. Give them human names like you would, a hurricane as well, just taking it to the next level. Chief heat officers the new trend and hiring around -- cities around the country because this is -- this is a new baseline, right?


WEIR: You know what we used to think about as a once-a-summer or once- a-lifetime event is now constant.

BOLDUAN: It's now every summer and it's affecting all seasons and is affecting all lives. I mean, you -- we talked about -- you did great reporting on the water crisis out west and this is part and parcel with it with the heat wave.


But it comes down to -- of course, this talk is solutions. It has to be conservation in part.

WEIR: Right.

BOLDUAN: And then -- but we know California, they -- the governor has talked about some really big long-term solutions in their water crisis problem. But what did -- how do these solutions kind of stack up?

WEIR: Well, there's mitigation, which is trying to cut this problem off at the source and make it less horrible.


WEIR: There's a certain amount of pain which is already baked in, and then there's -- yes, there's adaptation. And this is where you realize certain communities that lean into urban canopies of trees that have the most you know, just what sounds like simple basic things will be the difference between livability or not, going forward as well, right? And so yes, when he talks about how do you get more freshwater for millions of more people, desalination plants? It takes a long time, it takes permitting, and there are environmental costs to each of those choices, but it starts with a new mentality about living in the American West these days means living with a lot less dependable water. And that may change property values and may change the way migration streams out west, you know.


WEIR: But the idea that this is just going to break with a great rain and we're back to the good old days, I'm afraid may not be the case.

BOLDUAN: Definitely not the case. But in it's a long-term change that -- I mean, a long-term change in everyone's lives from government officials in what they prioritize and where they put their dollars.

WEIR: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And also to average citizens in how -- in how we live.

WEIR: But a lot of folks who can afford it, they don't notice these things as much as those folks who are -- who are counting every drop.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. It's good to see you.

WEIR: Good to see you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming.

WEIR: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us. A homecoming of sorts for Barack and Michelle Obama, the former president and first lady back at the White House for a big event with the Bidens. That's next.



BOLDUAN: We're keeping an eye on the White House at this hour as former President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama are expected to be arriving shortly for a ceremony to unveil their official White House portraits. President Biden bringing back the decades-long tradition with the big unveiling that was broken under former President Trump. Joining me right now, CNN political commentator and former Obama White House official Van Jones, and CNN senior political correspondent and anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY," Abby Phillip, it's great to see you guys. Abby, what do you think today will be like?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think anytime that the Obamas are in Washington doing something in public, it's usually a big celebration among Democrats. I mean, these are two of the most popular political figures still to this day in the Democratic Party. Their popularity really has not waned since leaving office.

And it's also -- I -- actually a quite historic moment today because they are the first black couple in the United States history, the first black president and first black first lady who ever lived in that White House, and to now have their portraits being unveiled there. I think you're going to see a lot of reflection, perhaps on that moment. But, you know, these are basically the political celebrities of the Democratic Party returning to Washington so you can imagine what that's going to look like.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And, Van, I mean, the timing here seems to be good for the White House as Biden is -- has been -- is and has been celebrating a string of legislative wins. And, of course, we are in the thick of the midterm campaign season. Do you see this, as yet another instance of there being very few coincidences in politics?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think, you know, Biden's going to have a different bounce in his step if he had tried to do this three or four months ago, it might have been even a more somber occasion. You know, Biden is -- he's on the warpath. He's moving forward. He's getting his agenda passed. And I think it's good to remind people of that Buddy movie that we saw for eight years.

You know, Joe Biden and Barack Obama very -- remember, they were rivals, initially. Ran against each other for the nomination, different generations, different backgrounds, different everything, but they came together. And they served the country well for eight years. And part of the reason that Joe Biden is president today is because he stood with Barack Obama through good days and bad days for eight years.

And so I think, you know, certainly for Democrats -- well, I think for the country, restoring the tradition that your honor your predecessors, that you honor American tradition when it comes to hanging in the portrait, you know, Donald Trump refused to hang the portrait, which is another mark of shame, I think against his presidency, I think it's all good. I think I think it's going to be a good experience and a good feeling, a triumph Biden. This time, he gets to be the person doing something good by hanging up that portrait. The last time they were together in that same room, it was Biden that got surprised with that Medal of Honor from Obama.

BOLDUAN: It's true.

JONES: And so now he gets to return that favor.

BOLDUAN: And you can meet him -- before we move on to more politics. I mean, we have the images we can show of the other official portraits if you will, that are -- that are housed in the National Portrait Gallery of the Obamas. And just -- I'm -- no one knows what these official -- what the official White House portraits are going to look like. But I mean, on the left, Kehinde Wiley is one of my favorite artists, and just seeing that I'm really excited to see what comes. And one of the few times I feel like there isn't a leak or a background briefing that we know of, right, Abby?


PHILLIP: Yes. And I mean I don't know what these portraits are going to look like. I don't think any of us here on your screen do, but I'm excited to find out what it's going to be because one of the things that the Obamas have done is they have elevated black artists, they have elevated young artists, and we'll see what their portraits look like. I'll tell you, I mean here in Washington, when those portraits are hanging in the Smithsonian, they are a -- they are a destination for tourists who come to Washington just to see those portraits. And there are, even to this day, lines and crowds around these portraits because they stand out so much. They are very distinctive. And that's, I think, what the Obamas wanted at the end of the day.

BOLDUAN: Van? Yes.

JONES: You got to go back to -- you got to go back to the Kennedys to find somebody -- to find a couple that respected the arts as much as the Obamas did, you know. And to your point, elevating new voices, fresh perspectives, people who you know really hadn't got a break, you know. Obviously, Michelle Obama did that in the world of fashion, but also in the world of art. And those ports -- those portraits are just stunning. And you just -- I have no idea what this next one's going to look like. But already, when you say -- when you think, you know, Obama portrait, you already have an iconic image in your mind for both of them. And I'm just so curious to see what's going to happen now.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and putting politics aside, it is OK to just sit and appreciate art when we get to see a new piece. And I'm very excited.


PHILLIP: That's true.

BOLDUAN: I'm very personally excited to do that. But then back to the politics, Van, I've been wanting to pick your brain about something. We've seen in the last week, Biden really jumped into the midterms in a personal and intense way calling out MAGA Republicans, accusing them of semi-fascism and then talking about them as kind of extremists, but then also feeling the need to clarify.

Biden tweeted something out that caught a lot of people's eyes saying I want to be clear, not every congressional Republican is a MAGA Republican. I know because I've been able to work with these mainstream Republicans. What do you think -- what do you think of this, I'm going to call it a dance that he's trying to pull off here?

JONES: Look, he's in a tough spot because, on the one hand, it is important to challenge some of this crazy stuff that's going on. You do have people who are apologists for insurrectionists and rioters, you have the former president saying he's going to pass out, get out of jail, free cards to traitors and treasonous people who attacked our capitol, that's scary stuff. And I don't care who you are, if you're the president of a country, where that kind of movement is gaining power, you have to speak out against it, you have to. So I think it's powerful that he's doing that.

The challenge is how you do it. And are you calling people out? Are you calling people in? Are you -- are you painting with too broad a brush where you actually wind up strengthening the thing that you're fighting or are you being more surgical? I think he could be accused of not being surgical enough in the initial statements. Who are you talking about in particular? You could say -- you could say you're talking about 60 million people, which I know he's not.

And then also, are you saying these folks are just irredeemable and terrible and you just want them out of your country? Or are you saying, hey, cut out the nonsense, I want you back on my team? I think you're worthy of a better cause than supporting insurrections. I want you back on my team. I'm not just calling you out, I'm calling you in, let's work together.

I think that the work together message hasn't been there. The surgical nature hasn't been there. And now he has to clean that up. But don't forget, why is he having trouble? He's having trouble because you have a terrible movement growing in the country, whatever you call it. It's not all Republicans by any stretch but you have a terrible movement gaining power in this country, and it needs to be confronted. He's trying to confront it. That's important. How he does it could be improved.


BOLDUAN: I thank you both. I was just going to say thank you and thanks --

PHILLIP: I'm sorry, Kate. Yes.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Abby. Go ahead.

PHILLIP: Elections are about contrasts. And there's one thing that the Biden administration is trying to take advantage of, and that is that Republicans and Trump are putting this contrast on the table. So it's a -- it's Biden's job to figure out how to make that contrast in a way that separates, you know, the persuadable voters, the moderate voters, from the people on the far-right. And I think that's what they're trying to accomplish. Whether he's able to do that, I think we'll find out in a couple of months, right?

BOLDUAN: That is absolutely true. Art and politics, we can do it all here "AT THIS HOUR" with you guys, on hand. Thanks, guys. It's great to see you.

JONES: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us. Back in court today, the man accused of kidnapping and murdering Eliza Fletcher. The very latest on this case and the new statement from the Fletcher family. That's ahead.



BOLDUAN: Back in court this morning, the man charged with murdering Eliza Fletcher, the teacher and mother of two abducted while on a morning jog in Memphis. His arraignment, though postponed until tomorrow. Also, Fletcher's family is now remembering her as a joy to everyone who knew her. CNN's Gary Tuchman is live in Memphis for us. Gary, so what happened in court this morning?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Kate, the man accused of killing Eliza Fletcher was inside this court, so were her family members, so were members of the news media, and then the announcement that the arraignment will be postponed until tomorrow. The reason being, that there's some kind of conflict with the public defender representing the defendant. And by the way, this is something we need to say on the record. We've been calling them Cleotha Abston, his name has changed. He apparently has two names.

The judge said what name do you want to use? He said I want to use Cleotha Henderson so his name is now Henderson. There's some kind of dispute between the public defender and him. We don't know what it is. It's been kept under seal. The judge will make a decision if he needs to do a lawyer and that's why the arraignment will be held tomorrow.

Nevertheless, a lot of things happened during this first appearance in a charge, the arraignment and court did happen today. The judge officially announcing you're charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and also the judge green tool requesting the prosecutors to revoke bond, no possibility of getting out of jail in the meantime.


There was another arraignment yesterday on the kidnapping charges and he did receive a $500,000 bond, very unlikely he would have been able to get out but now he definitely will not be able to get out. The family members releasing a statement -- keep in mind this victim was a wife, a daughter of two, parents who are still alive, and the mother of two small children. The family members released the statement, they're not commenting on camera and that's understandable. I'm going to read part of it to you.

They say we are heartbroken and devastated by this senseless loss. Liza was such a joy to so many. We are grateful beyond measure to local state and federal law enforcement for their tireless efforts to find Liza and to bring justice to the person responsible for this horrible crime. Kate, it's so hard to sit in that courtroom and see them there. Once again, the official arraignment is tomorrow, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Gary, thank you so much for the update. We'll continue to follow that. Thanks for being here, everybody. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this.