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At This Hour

Snowfall Totals Could Reach 5 Feet In Buffalo Area; U.S. Moves To Shield Saudi Crown Prince In Journalist Killing; Pelosi Opens Door To A New Generation Of Democratic Leaders. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 18, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. At This Hour, a life- threatening snowstorm pummeling western New York with several feet of snow predicted. Buffalo's mayor will be joining us for an update. Plus, the Biden administration's controversial move now to shield the Saudi Crown Prince from legal action over his role in the killing of an American journalist. And the Twitter tailspin, the latest on the mass exodus of employees and the continued chaos at the social media company. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. There is a powerful and life-threatening snowstorm hammering western New York today. The Buffalo area already has some three feet of snow on the ground. And of course, well, snow is nothing surprising in Buffalo, New York. This lake effect storm could drop as much as five feet on the area when this is all over, some describing as a month's worth of snow in just a matter of days. Eleven counties are under a state of emergency. Officials are warning against the dangers of trees toppling over and powerlines breaking under the weight of the so much snow coming down so fast. And local officials are urging everyone to stay off the roads. Let's begin with Polo Sandoval who's in Buffalo for us. Polo, it is white there. What are you seeing and hearing from folks?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, it is very difficult to ignore the warnings that have been coming from New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, when she says that this storm is potentially life threatening. And what concerns authorities not just at the state level, but here locally as well, it's not the snow that we've seen since last night. It's what is still predicted around the corner and it never ceases to amaze me just how quickly things can change.

In fact, I even see some blue skies right now. But that according to weather experts is certainly deceiving. We are just a few miles away from that band that lake effect snow band. And in a matter of seconds, we have experienced whiteout conditions and then it clears up. And then whiteout conditions again. And the result is basically that snow falling on top of snow. What we have seen here in Buffalo, our local officials and crews have been working around the clock to make sure that they seize on the opportunity to clear out those roads and make sure that they're as clear as possible knowing that more snow is on the way. There's a community about 50 miles south of here, they've already seen some extremely high snow amounts and that is only going to continue to rise as we come into the afternoon hours potentially into this evening.

I will say this, people have been largely heeding those warnings only a few people out either walking or driving around, especially now that the conditions have allowed authorities to downgraded from a travel ban to a travel advisory. But still if unless it's an emergency, authorities are stressing it's important to stay at home. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thank you, Polo so much for that. Let's get more details on how much snow, how fast it could be coming and what people need to be preparing for. Meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking this for us. Chad, what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A lot of things going on here, Kate, I mean, all the way from snow from Wisconsin into Michigan, parts of Indiana, Ohio. And then we were focusing on this snow stream band here moving into Western New York and then another one moving into upstate New York. This is the area that has seen so much snow and it just has not stopped here, pull up here, just a little bit out of this band, you get into the band and all of a sudden, you're in the 30 plus inch range already. And it's still snowing, same story kind of a poured water town.

Look at these numbers, Orchard Park where the Bills were going to play, 36 inches on the ground already. And another maybe 18 still to go and all that area has 18 plus already. So why? What happened? What's happening? These winds have been coming out of the west southwest and blowing the snow to the south towns, south of Buffalo.

But later on tonight that's going to change and move back up to exactly where Polo Sandoval is right now. And that's when the heaviest snow will be for Buffalo proper. All of these areas here going to see snow as the snow back and forth with this almost fire hose like a snow coming down one round of snow after another and, Kate, I don't think people realize if you have 40 inches of snow on your roof, and you have a 1,200 square foot home. That's 25,000 pounds of snow above your head.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I mean the dangers are real in the midst of it and after the fact, that's a great point. It's good to see you, Chad. Chad is going to be tracking all of it as the conditions change, deteriorate, and hopefully get on the other side of this for us. Chad, thank you.


Joining me now on the phone is Byron Brown. He's the mayor of Buffalo. Mayor, thank you for jumping on. How are things going right now? What are you hearing from folks?

MAYOR BYRON BROWN (D-NY), BUFFALO: Right now, Kate, much of the City of Buffalo proper is in good shape. The northern part of the city in pretty good shape, downtown Buffalo in pretty good shape, south Buffalo getting hit extremely hard, over 20 inches of snow have fallen in South Buffalo. We have reinstituted a driving ban for South Buffalo so that we can make sure that cars are off the roads and that our plows can do their work.

BOLDUAN: Snow in Buffalo in November, that's nothing crazy, of course, as you know. But you have been saying that this storm is different. What should people be prepared for?

BROWN: This is a super heavy storm. Right now, most of the city is in good shape, South Buffalo getting hit very hard. But the snow band is going to move north later tonight. And we anticipate that the rest of the city could get hit as hard as the southern part of the city is getting hit. So people have to stay vigilant. We want people to stay home and not drive. Our plows are out. We're getting great cooperation with the state of New York Governor Kathy Hochul, county of Erie, County Executive Mark Poloncarz. We have over 100 pieces of snow plowing equipment out right now as we speak.

BOLDUAN: The way Chad Myers was, I think, perfectly describing this as almost like a fire hose action, fire hose of snow that's going to be coming down all over the area when it's all said and done. The fact that people may be, I don't know, snowed in for two, three days with this. Are people ready for that?

BROWN: You know, we're tough and resilient. Buffalo is a city of good neighbors. We support each other and work together like no other community. We're ready for what comes. We had some time to prepare and plan for this storm. And the cooperation and the coordination between the state, the county, the city, and other municipalities in western New York has been exceptional.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Mayor, thank you so much for your time. Good luck with this and stay warm, stay safe.

So let's go to another major story that we're watching At This Hour. The Biden administration says the Saudi Crown Prince should be granted immunity, which would shield him from legal action over his role in the murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. This now is adding to what has become one of the more incoherent elements of President Biden's foreign policy going from calling the nation of pariah to fist bumps, and now to this. Alex Marquardt, live in Washington for us with much more on the detail and the backstory here. Alex, how is the administration justifying this?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it appears there wasn't too much hand wringing over this, a senior administration official just spoke to our colleague, Jeremy Diamond, and said that it wasn't a really difficult conclusion to come to. They are not walking back there assessment that MBS, the crown prince, was behind or directed, in fact, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. What they're saying is that he deserves immunity in this case, that was brought against him two years ago by the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi. And the reason that he deserves immunity is because he is not just the crown prince, he is in fact, the prime minister. And that makes him head of the Saudi government. Kate, we should note that he only became prime minister several weeks ago. And critics, legal experts I've spoken with, activist, they say that that was a ploy in order to give him this immunity, to shield him from prosecution here in the United States. And it appears to have worked, because in that a filing by the Department of Justice late last night, really at the 11th hour, because yesterday was the deadline, they made clear that he is being given immunity, because he is the Saudi, the head of the Saudi government as prime minister.

But Kate, of course, contrast that with all of the harsh language that we've heard about MBS and heard about Saudi Arabia, right from President Biden, this is President Biden, then candidate Biden on the campaign trail in 2019. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Khashoggi was in fact, murdered and dismembered. And I believe in the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear, we were not going to in fact, sell more weapons to them. We were going to in fact, make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are. There's very little social redeeming value of the -- in the present government in Saudi Arabia. They have to be held accountable.


MARQUARDT: Kate, this was a recommendation from the State Department. When I spoke to them, they talked about it as an unbroken practice, past precedent where heads of state, heads of government are given immunity. And they say that's what they would want American officials to get if they were in legal Jeopardy elsewhere. They would also want immunity for top American officials of course there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of sadness. I spoke with the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi she said that she is devastated today. And she also tweeted, saying that Biden saved the murder by granting immunity. He saved the criminal and got involved in the crime himself. Let's see who will save you in the hereafter, so the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi really laying this at the feet of the U.S. President. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. All right, so it's great to see you, Alex, thank you so much for that. Joining me now for more on this as Aaron David Miller, he's longtime State Department, Middle East negotiator, as we know, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also a friend of Jamal Khashoggi. Aaron, it's good to see you. What do you -- what did you think when you saw this overnight?

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPT. MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: I learned over the last night, Kate, and I have to say it was sort of head spinning. I mean, the President, I understand his dilemma, the president vowed consequences in the wake of MBS's decision OPEX decision driven by MBS in October to cut production by almost 2 million barrels a day, weeks before the midterms, when gas prices was figured centrally in Democratic Party's prospects and supporting Vladimir Putin. The timing on this was terrible. If the President is going to talk about consequences, he ought to seriously think about imposing them. And this is clearly suggests a certain tone deafness about the political environment in which the President is operating, and also on the issue of promoting American values.

BOLDUAN: Aaron, as Alex was just reporting, the State Department was not required to make a determination of immunity but was invited to do so by the court. And I want to read what the State Department told CNN about this, this suggestion of immunity, which is called, does not reflect an assessment on the merits of the case. It speaks to nothing on broader policy or the state of relations. A State Department spokesman told CNN this was purely a legal determination. What does that mean to you?

MILLER: Yes, I'm not a I'm not a lawyer. And I'm certainly not going to play one on CNN. I think, legal action, it's clear, it's a principle established customer principle in international law, with respect to sovereign immunity for a head of government, in this case, the Prime Minister, although clearly, this was done, in fact, revising Saudi law in order to transfer responsibility for being the prime minister from the King to Mohammed bin Salman.

But look, we have interests, we have values. Legal decisions are fine. In this particular case, the unmistakable takeaway is that four years after the death and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, there's still no accounting and no accountability. And yet the administration has said repeatedly that that's essentially what they're seeking.

Bottom line here, Kate, I've seen this through five administrations, unlike Lehman Brothers, the default position is that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is simply too big and too important to fail. And I think the administration is essentially validating that policy. There any number of things that the administration can do, we do have leverage over Saudi Arabia. But I think it's highly unlikely, I would say almost inconceivable that the administration is going to act on any of them.

BOLDUAN: You're -- what you're getting at is also the bigger issue as well, which is a Biden administration is not the first to look the other way. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, governments and businesses alike have done that for a long time. And comedian Hasan Minaj actually grabbed my attention recently, when he put it maybe in the most succinct way possibly. Let put it this way, listen to this.


HASAN MINHAJ, COMEDIAN: I think it's pretty, you know, it's pretty consistent with the way, you know, Americans we behave, we always talk about human rights violations until the price of unleaded hits $5, then it's time to go soar dancing with the Saudis, am I right, Joe?


BOLDUAN: Hasan is also a guy who says that he's banned from Saudi for his criticism of the Saudi government. Is there a way out of this cycle?

MILLER: You know, we'd have to essentially look at the Saudis for who and what they are. They're not an ally of the United States. And ally of the United States is a country that shares high coincidence in values, a very high coincidence of interests, and I would argue, a country for which there was a very consistent, long-standing base of domestic support. Britain is an ally, Canada is an ally, Australia is an ally, Japan is an ally, South Korea is an ally, Saudi Arabia is not an ally of the United States. It's a problematic part in which there is no coincidence of values.

And I wouldn't argue to you, Kate, the limited coincidence of interests where our U.S. Saudi interests coinciding when it comes to oil production, where are they in coinciding with respect to relations with China or Ukraine? And of course, where are they with respect to human rights? It should be a transactional relationship if the Saudis want then we need to get. And unless we sort of recreate that frame of transaction, I think that this is simply going to motivate Mohammed bin Salman, a ruthless, reckless, extraordinary reformer, but who has imposed a degree of repression and oppression on Saudi citizens as well as tried to secure and threatened and intimidate them abroad. This is just going to continue. So let's treat the Saudis for who and what they are. They are a problematic partner. And we need things from them if they want things from us.


BOLDUAN: Aaron, it's always good to have you, thank you so much for coming on.

Big announcements this morning from which -- for about which Democrats now want to lead the party in the House of Representatives just as Republicans start previewing the investigations that they plan to launch in the new majority.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I want to be clear, this is an investigation of Joe Biden.


BOLDUAN: The very latest from Capitol Hill, next.



BOLDUAN: House Democrats are preparing now for a new generation of leaders after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she is stepping down from her post. Her most likely successor, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, he just formally announced his bid to step into her shoes. Jessica Dean is live on Capitol Hill with much more and a lot of moving parts. And they're moving pretty quickly, Jessica, what are Jefferies and the others saying as they launch bids to be the new leaders. JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly true, Kate. Yesterday they all demurred and wanted it to be about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But today, we are hearing and statements from Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar about their future plans to really take over and run for the new brand of Democratic leadership in the House. And we heard from Jeffries in a letter earlier today where he really laid out the top priority being taking back the house for Democrats in 2024.

And also, you know, a host of democratic priorities as well. And just in the last moments, we heard in a dear colleague letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she salutes these three individuals to really take the helm. And she said a new day is dawning, again passing that torch. It is really a sea change for House Democrats here in this next generation of leadership. That is certainly true. We also heard from Hakeem Jeffries in that letter, I want to read you in part what he said. He said, quote, we must make sure that the perception of the Democratic brand matches up with the reality that we do, in fact, authentically share values that unite the heartland, urban America, rural America, suburban America and small-town America.

This undertaking will not be easy. We must show up early and in unexpected places, it will require the involvement, creativity and input of every single house Democrat to be successful. Together, we can make it happen. And again, he has the full support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and so many Democratic members that we spoke with yesterday and worth noting, Kate, that while Speaker Pelosi made history herself as the first and ever, first and only woman to ever hold the gavel, he would be the first black leader for either party here on Capitol Hill, Kate.

BOLDUAN: More history in the making. It's good to see you Jessica. Thank you. Joining me right now, CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju and CNN correspondent, Audie Cornish, she's the host of the new CNN podcast called The Assignment. Manu, the new Democratic House leadership, how do you see this taking shape, I mean, we see who the lead candidates are, of course, but with Pelosi and others in charge for, you know, 20 years of the Democratic Party in the House, are people worried at all about I don't know a learning curve just as they head into a really challenging period of being back in the minority?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, in some ways they have an advantage because they are in the minority would be a different situation, if they were in the majority and had to put together an agenda, had to manage the floor, had to corral votes and to get legislation through. And what is a very -- would be a very slim majority. That is different when you're the minority party, essentially, what you have to do is ensure that you are lined up in opposition because the house is a very partisan institution, you'll see a lot of Republican bills that are designed to rile up their base that unite their party, that will unite Democratic -- Democrats in opposition.

So as an opposition party a little bit easier task, and also, even if there are situations in which some members of the Democratic caucus and maybe in swing districts, more moderate members may want to vote with Republicans that probably be fine with leaders like Hakeem Jeffries, because they could stop any bills they don't like in the Democratic led Senate, much less get a veto pen and by the Democratic president. So in some ways is a bit easier.

What Jeffries said in that letter, though, is interesting, because their goal number one is to get back in the majority. And they had a chance of doing that Kate, given that the margins are going to be so narrow in the next Congress, they can certainly do that, but Jeffries sees a path there. And that's what he's arguing to his colleagues.

BOLDUAN: And that mean this is so characteristic of the House as well, right? The election literally just wrapped up and they are now planning for the next election ahead and fundraising all along the way. Audie, Republicans, though are quickly focusing in on their priorities are showing some of their priorities now. And when that comes to the House Oversight Committee that includes an investigation into Joe Biden's family, his son Hunter Biden, I want to play for everyone how they're pitching that now.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): In the 118th, Congress, this committee will evaluate the status of Joe Biden's relationship with his family's foreign partners and whether he is a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence. I want to be clear this is an investigation of Joe Biden. And that's where the Committee will focus in this next Congress.



BOLDUAN: And that is the incoming chairman of the House over -- of House Oversight, Audie. What's this going to look like?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think we've always known that investigations would be sort of a lead part of what the Republican agenda would be. They were always very upfront about that, the withdrawal from Afghanistan is also on that list. And something I've been reporting on as well, the idea that somehow DOJ would have been looking into some of the activist parents who were upset during school board meetings, and whether there was potential threats of violence.

So I think there's a lot of areas that they're going to try and touch, Manu, knows including impeachment, the idea of impeaching various figures, I think what this calculus is different now, because this sort of rebuke by voters in so many areas, also reflects maybe a little bit of a lack of policy, that if voters only saw candidates speaking loud and proud about election denialism, and maybe pulling back on abortion rights, there wasn't much else to fall back on.

So if you are going to touch on the other issue, say the economy, like a lot or crime, there was no actual legislation or conversation to be had on a Republican agenda. So, you know, I think what they're doing, obviously, it makes sense to kind of look good on T.V. doing your oversight, but like they have to lead. And it'll be interesting to see what they actually lean on legislatively.

BOLDUAN: Look and this comes down to elections have consequences and the consequences that they do bring, of course, from national elections to even the most local of elections, like school board elections, which is is something that you are exploring in this new episode of your podcast, Audie. I want to play a little bit for everyone.


APRIL CARNEY, DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA SCHOOL BOARD: We can't just focus on the presidential election anymore. What happens on the local level is what's most important, and it affects the most important citizens of this country, and that's our children. And so, are there a lot of informed voters out there? Yes. Are there a lot that are not? Absolutely. And so, to some extent, to make it a more partisan race, it helps those that are low information voters make a decision based upon what they believe.


BOLDUAN: Audie, why did you want to dig into this?

CORNISH: Well, you know, it's one thing to see clips of, or viral videos of people yelling and seeming really out of control, et cetera, all that is true. What's also true is since that time, this movement that started out of pandemic and COVID policies, and then moved on to anti-CRT efforts, and then moved on to LGBTQ conversations in the classroom has now actually formed into its own small political movement. There's a group called Moms for Liberty. It has more than 200 chapters. There's a PAC, the 77 -- the 1776 project. They all sink money into slate of candidates at local school board levels.

And I think that that's something people are going to see more and more and realize that it's far more partisan than it was in the past.

BOLDUAN: Audie it's good to see you. Manu, thank you so much, it's great to see you. All right, and you can listen to the assignment with Audie Cornish on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. Thanks, guys.

North Korea's latest missile launch, capable of striking the United States how the Biden administration and world leaders are responding to this one, next.