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At This Hour

Tornadoes Leave Destruction across Louisiana; First Lady Jill Biden "All In" for 2024 Campaign; U.S. Border Migrant Surge. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, there. AT THIS HOUR, a deadly outbreak of tornadoes causing a path of destruction through Louisiana. The pictures get worse and worse. The mayor of one of the towns joins us with an update.

Plus a Republican lawmaker confronts a witness on a hearing about extremism over that witness' own tweets. Congresswoman Nancy Mace is our guest.

And Prince Harry on what he calls the terrifying fight with his brother all playing out in front of the queen. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thanks for being here, everybody, I'm Kate Bolduan.

Three people are dead this morning. Dozens of others are injured after a series of tornadoes touched down in Louisiana.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Just look at some of the images of destruction that are coming in. The latest victim -- the latest victim announced is a woman in her 50s, who died when a tornado hit her home in St. Charles Parish. Nearly 50 tornadoes in seven states over the last two days leaving obviously widespread destruction in their wake.

Let's get right to Nick Valencia. He's in Gretna, at one of the towns hit very hard.

What are you seeing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are surrounded by the devastation from those deadly tornadoes that ripped through this community. No one was killed here in this community. But they were significantly hit, devastated really by this tornado that ripped through this community.

And you can see this home. What I'm hearing from residents, is that they really just didn't have that much time to prepare; 10 to 15 seconds they said. Before they knew it and the tornado was right on top of them. Some said that they just can't believe they escaped with their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shook us and knocked us down but then I walked around and I see all of the damage on the street and I just can't believe. This happened in eight seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hear a whole bunch of booming against the wall. And as I'm running out, my brother runs in front of me. And as we're running, we just hear a whole bunch of boom and then everything -- like we heard our roof lifting and he's lifted off his feet. And he grabbed on to the door frame.


VALENCIA: The residents here in Gretna that we have spoken to say they just feel like they can't catch a break. Earlier this year they were hit hard by hurricane Ida only to take what seems like a direct hit from this tornado.

The resident here in this home tells me that he had just finished reconstructing after the damage that they suffered from hurricane Ida, only for this to happen here to their home. They were just here a short time ago, taking out belongings of what was left anyway.

The woman would lived here telling me that she's grateful this morning to be alive. Kate.

BOLDUAN: I mean, something to be grateful for. But they really, they really can't catch a break. Thank you so much, Nick. I appreciate it.

And the severe weather threat is still not over. That same storm system that spawned those tornadoes is developing into a nor'easter.


BOLDUAN: Let's get back now to the devastating tornadoes. Joining me right now is Belinda Constant, the mayor of Gretna.

Mayor, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: You said last night you saw catastrophic damage in the early moments after the tornado struck.

Now that the sun has come up and you're able to get a better look, what are seeing in terms of what has happened to your community?

CONSTANT: Well, Katie, unfortunately now that the sun is up, it is more devastating than initially expected.

[11:05:00] CONSTANT: There are more houses that will probably have to be condemned or demolished bases on such damage, devastation across the entire city on the north side of our city. It is about a 1.5 mile stretch that is completely just inundated with destruction.

You can see the line of destruction from the tornado as people described tornadoes as they move through an area. Behind me is an example of the devastation that is left behind. This house is still standing; unfortunately, it seems to be a structure that will have to be demolished.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, is everyone accounted for in your city?

CONSTANT: You know, that is the blessing and we thank God for that this morning and on this beautiful sunny skies and beautiful day, we had no loss of life. We had three people transported to a hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries and were released. And we thank God for that this morning.

And, you know, I have to say -- and we did yesterday, just gave kudos to the local media and the way that they reported this event and encouraging and advising and pleading with people to take safety in our community.

And people survived in bathtubs and interior closets. This is not the place where we normally have tornadoes. So our reality of a safe house is not what it is in other parts of the country. But people survived in bathtubs. And so we're just, as I said, just feeling blessed this morning in the midst of the devastation.

BOLDUAN: I guess you have to -- it is the best way to be, is to counts the blessings in moments of true, true tragedy.

What is the most pressing issue?

What do the people in your community need?

CONSTANT: We've got several groups of people, our local Jefferson Parish is working in concert with us, evaluating all structures, determining who will need temporary housing.

Lt Gov Billy Nungesser has reached out to us already and is working on the temporary housing. So that is priority. People over property is priority for us this morning in the recovery effort.

And we just want to say thank you to our local partners, who has reached out and just such an outpouring from other municipalities that have walked this walk and is standing with us and through this recovery process.

BOLDUAN: Our correspondent on the ground, Nick Valencia, spoke to a family of the house near or -- behind you or right nearby, who said they really just finished kind of picking up the pieces and putting things back together after hurricane Ida. And now this.

When you've got a community that is getting hit and getting hit again and you can't get a break, what do you say to them?

What do you say to your residents?

CONSTANT: It is so hard to face people over and over again through tragedy. Right. But through it all, you know, I mean, we're a resilient people. And this is the type of thing that don't choose locations. It is spontaneous and it happened when it is least expected.

We've not had a tornado through this city in 70 years. So this was totally unexpected. We don't live in a place known as Tornado Alley or a place that is prone to tornado. We prepare for hurricanes.

So this is quite unexpected. And we stand here, committed with our neighbors, to get through this as best as we can as a community. And we're a strong community, we're a small community, we're 20,000 people strong here in the city of Gretna. And we stand with each other through recovery. And that is what we're doing this morning.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Well, Mayor, thank you for taking a moment to speak to us in the midst of what is a crushing level of responsibility. Thank you so much and please let us now how we can get the word out because your community will need some help.

CONSTANT: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: First lady Jill Biden is warming up to the prospect of her husband running for re-election. She's "all in" on the idea of Biden 2024. Let me bring in Kate Bennett, live in Washington with her new reporting on this.

Kate, this is super interesting.

What are you learning?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first lady has always assumed there could be a second term. No one enters the White House thinking this is it, just four years. They always think eight years.

But there's been a recent change mostly reflected by the wins of the midterms and the uptick in the economy, things like Brittney Griner release that Joe Biden could look to as solid wins. And think that has helped the first lady deeply commit to the idea of 2024, despite her looking down the road, concerns about his age, et cetera.


BENNETT: She is now feeling strongly that she wants to get into this for 2024 and wants to win it.

But I will say, Kate, recent polling that CNN just did, Joe Biden still faces an uphill battle to convince other Americans. Only 40 percent are saying that Joe Biden should be the Democratic candidate for 2024 and 59 percent would prefer a different candidate than Joe Biden. That is significant, especially if we're late in the game for

announcing for '24 anyway. So it is a challenge there.

The main, potential opponent would be Donald Trump. Numbers not looking so great for him either, Kate. From CNN polling, again he's not the preferred candidate for the GOP. We're looking here at 38 percent say he should run and 62 percent saying a different candidate.

So it will be a interesting battle heading into 2024 but I think it is something to look at, that the first lady is, as people told me, all in on doing this.

BOLDUAN: And in that final decision and an announcement to come after the holidays. We will see. Kate, thank you.

So thousands of migrants crossing over the Texas border.

What is the Biden administration planning to do about this as Title 42 is about to expire?

The latest on a report from the Mexico side of the border, next.





BOLDUAN: Thousands of migrants are crossing over the Rio Grande into El Paso each day. And the Biden administration is bracing now for an even bigger surge when Title 42 expires.

The Trump era pandemic policy, which allowed border officials to turn people away, will be ending next week. Ed Lavandera has more from the Mexican side of the border.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The edge of the Rio Grande -- and this is the spot in Juarez, Mexico, where thousands of migrants have been crossing into the U.S. for the better part of a week.

We've been seeing numbers of, on average, about 2,500 a day and, this morning once again, it is a very orderly process, as you might be hard to imagine. But there is a long line of people that goes several hundred yards back. There are hundreds of people essentially making a line, waiting to be allowed into the U.S. to get processed.

All of these people that you see on other side of the river are essentially waiting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents. And as I mentioned, it is a very orderly process. They stand here in this line. And then you can see the embankment when the border wall ends and the

barb wire ends and there is a chain-link fence. And at that point, there are Border Patrol agents there that are calling people up, small groups at a time.

And then they get processed and taken into a Border Patrol facility process and determines whether they will be deported or allowed to go through the immigration process. So that is what we're seeing here.

These numbers are really intense and the number of people that we're seeing here but, essentially, this is coming days before the possibility of the end of Title 42. And as we have been reporting, the concern is that the number of people that we're seeing at this point could just be a fraction of what is coming.


BOLDUAN: Ed Lavandera, thank you for that reporting.

So Title 42 made it quicker and easier to turn migrants away at the border. The pandemic era policy is ending next week. And this week the Biden administration is releasing a plan on what they are doing to prepare. MJ Lee is live at White House with more on this.

We've seen plans like this before.

What is new here?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, keep in mind, it is important to note because this a policy that dates back to the Trump administration and was designed to try to contain COVID-19 from spreading, DHS and this administration has known for a while that, yes, that at some point, this was going to expire.

And now that date is coming up, essentially middle of next week. And you're right, that the preparations have been underway for a while. And this updated plan that was posted just this week says a number of things that the DHS is trying to do, to try to basically keep everything under control at the U.S. border.

We're talking about things like hiring hundreds of extra Border Patrol personnel, building temporary facilities for the migrants who are trying to come across the border, boosting air and ground transportation capacity. That is obviously really important in terms of just transporting these people.

And also increasing referrals for prosecution for repeat border crossers. Now what all of this has meant, of course, for the Biden administration -- and we're really just seeing this play out in such a visually stunning way -- is an expected surge of migrants that are going to try to come to the border and going to try to cross at the border once this policy has gone away.

Now this obviously has very big policy implications but also political as well. There is a lot of concern right now. And those concerns are being voiced to the White House that, politically, this could be bad for Democrats and just that there could be an issue with how much preparation this administration has done to try to keep this situation under control.

BOLDUAN: Yes. MJ, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Joining me with more is Democratic congresswoman Veronica Escobar. She represents El Paso, one of the cities in her district that is seeing a real influx of people crossing the border.

Thanks for coming back in.


BOLDUAN: I've been looking at what you've been talking about and you are not mincing words. You call this a crisis.

In your view, what is going to happen?

What is it going to look like when Title 42 goes away?

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Thanks so much for having me on, Kate. I think it is really important to create some context as I answer that question. This is a hemispheric challenge. We are seeing tens of thousands of people migrating across our Western Hemisphere.

Thousands and tens of thousands of them are staying in other countries, you know, creating challenges and opportunities in those other countries as well. Mexico, for example, took in, welcomed and offered asylum to a lot of the Haitians who migrated across our hemisphere.

And so this is not a challenge only for our country but this is really a historic challenge for our hemisphere. I'm very grateful to the administration for tackling it in that way. But all of the long-term solutions that the administration is working on will take time to take root.

So immediately communities like mine, which have long really been a part of seeing migrants arriving at our nation's front door and being a part of the process, we have seen just unprecedented need in our community.

And so there is a lot of work that we have to do together. What we're seeing on the ground really is, again, unprecedented. And we have local governments, local NGOs and myself, really trying to do best job that we can in order to ensure that we don't have a catastrophe or a significant emergency.

One of your reporters mentioned that, so far, things have been orderly. And I think it is really important for the American people to know that there has not been any violence, for example, that people are seeking asylum. But we just -- the system was not built to accept these kind of numbers.

BOLDUAN: You told my colleague, Jake Tapper, this week that there is a solution to this. Is this updated six-pillar plan posted online that MJ Lee was just

talking us through, that was posted online by DHS, is that the solution you're talking about?

ESCOBAR: Kate, that is part of it. But you know, we have to understand that the administration can only do so much. It is only one branch of our government. The other branch of our government, which creates legislation, has essentially been sitting on its hands for decades. And that is Congress.

For decades, we have seen migration, migrants arriving at our nation's front door. And the response has been let's build walls, let's create deterrence, let's treat immigration as a border only issue.

It's been that very short-sighted, unstrategic approach by Congress that has in part created this inability to really rise to the occasion congressionally and legislatively. We have seen Congress since 1996 limit legal pathways and basically not create lines for people to get into or create legal opportunities.

You know -- and we've heard from Kevin McCarthy, who is presumptively the incoming Speaker of the House, announce he is not going to take up any legislation around immigration. That is insanity to me, that we continue to address this as a border only issue.

BOLDUAN: What makes -- what breaks through the politics of this?

The politics of this is tricky. Or this -- we would not be where we are and there would have been some more immigration reform than in the last three decades, since the last time we saw it.

What do you think could make the politics less tricky?

Nothing is going to happen unless an absolute catastrophe has to be responded to or the politics around this changes.

ESCOBAR: You are 100 percent right, Kate. I am afraid that a catastrophe will happen, that there will be homeless migrants on the streets and freezing temperatures and people will die. I'm worried about that.

And will that break through the logjam in Congress?

I don't know if even that will change things.

So, politically, what do we need to do to break through?

And that has been the big challenge for me because, to be perfectly candid, you know, with such narrow majorities in -- even in the House, even with the Democratic majority.


ESCOBAR: There are a number of House Democrats who are concerned that, you know, if they sound -- if they support immigration reform, that that will harm them at home. And here is the reality, here is the reality around that political

issue. Poll after poll shows that Americans want us to pass immigration reform. We have the business community, I hear from business leaders all the time, Republican business leaders, CEOs, who tell me, why can't we put some of those folks to work?

We have a labor shortage in our country. Let's think about this strategically. And so the rest of the country understands that it is to our benefit to pass immigration reform and address this once and for all. We just need that to get through to members of Congress.

BOLDUAN: And it takes leadership. We'll see where that leadership lands. I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

So Russia warns of unpredictable consequences if the U.S. sends the Patriot missile system to Ukraine.

What does that mean?

And why is Moscow so worried?

That is next.