Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Storm Breaches CA River's Levee, Thousands Forced To Evacuate; Five More Arrested In Deadly Kidnapping Of Americans In Mexico After Cartel Issues Apology Letter And Hands Over Members; Power Fully Restored To Kyiv After Russian Bombardment; Organizers: 500,000 Demonstrate Against Israeli Government; Silicon Valley Bank Collapse Shakes Business Community; Iran Detains Over 100 Individuals Over Alleged Schoolgirl Poisonings; Major Oil Drilling Project In Alaska Will Be Approved By Biden. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired March 12, 2023 - 07:00   ET




KRISTIN FISHER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to CNN This Morning. It is Sunday March 12th. I'm Kristin Fisher in for Amara Walker.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Boris Sanchez. We're so grateful that you are starting your week with us. And Kristin, I hope that getting that hour of sleep unnecessarily snatched away from your night didn't hurt too bad.

FISHER: Of all the mornings to fill in for Amara, right? Hey, I triple checked my alarm clocks this morning. We both made it.

SANCHEZ: We did, yes.

FISHER: And here we are. And here's what we're watching this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They started evacuating I think at 12:00 in the morning or 1:00 in the morning. And they just started a national guards who was taking people out as they go.


FISHER: Parts of California underwater, homes and businesses flooded with levees pushed to the brink and as if that wasn't enough already, we've got another big rainmaker on the way.


CHIEF ROEL BERMEAV, PENITAS POLICE: This is the first time something like this reported to us. I mean, we really haven't had any other incidents that I can recall.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Three Texas women believe to be missing in Mexico after crossing the border more than two weeks ago. What her family saying and what investigators are saying about the case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even want to imagine a life where I can't be the person that I've worked so hard to finally figure out.


FISHER: Kentucky becomes the latest state looking to ban drag shows in public places. Why advocates in the gay community fear that this is just the start of a much more troubling trend.

SANCHEZ: Plus, tonight is Hollywood's biggest night. The favorites to take home an Oscar and how the show is going to address last year is now infamous slap.

We begin this morning though with a severe weather battering California. Finally, folks there are getting a break. The torrential rain has moved out of the northern and central part of the Golden State for now, but it's leaving in its wake, flooded towns washed out roads and thousands left out of their homes and there's more bad weather on the way.

First in Monterey County. The Paro River is surging after relentless rain and the levy just couldn't keep up. It broke early Saturday morning sending floodwaters into the small town and forcing about 1,700 residents to flee their homes. Fire crews have been going door to door to try to get people out as the water was rushing in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They started evacuating I think at 12:00 in the morning or 1:00 in the morning. And they just started at a national guards who are taking people out as they go.


FISHER: And many people couldn't make it out on their own. The California National Guard rescued dozens of people in the early hours of Saturday morning, including one person who was stranded in a car that was submerged by flooded waters. And with more rain on the way, CNN's Mike Valerio explains why there's an even bigger concern for the town of Pajaro.

MIKE VALERIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Kristin, good morning. This is still the center of the flood response area and we're here in downtown Pajaro with all of this water because we had the levee about 3.5 miles away from us. The water breach the very top of that levee and send all of this water down to the lower elevations.

Of course, we have so many families and we've seen since the dawn hours on Saturday, National Guard vehicles going up and down the main drag here at Pajaro rescuing couples, families, dogs, trying to get as many people out of here as possible. Now we spoke with one of the representatives leading the rescue efforts here, CAL FIRE.

Take a listen to when he told us they realized the levee had a breach and how many rescues they've accomplished in the early hours of their operations.


CURTIS RHODES, CAPTAIN, CAL FIRE: We were notified of the levee breach at midnight last night. So we deploy down here 3:00 a.m. this morning. We did have the high water team with us. That's part of the Emergency Operations Center. They've been countywide this week. They have their high water vehicles, and have been successful in nine high water rescue situations this morning.


VALERIO: So it's a little bit of a quiescent period right now, Boris and Kristin. You can see the sun is out but the concern is that of course we have an 11th atmospheric river of this season coming up Tuesday into Wednesday if the levee still is not fixed and there are not going to be any major repairs that will be able to happen in time by Tuesday.


The concern is that we could have even more water here in the middle of Pajaro. Boris and Kristin, back to you.

SANCHEZ: Mike Valerio, thank you so much for that.

Let's go to the CNN Weather Center now and CNN's Britley Ritz because Britley, as Mike just pointed out, there's an 11th Atmospheric River taking aim at California now and it gets there what, tomorrow?

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Monday and Tuesday, yes. And 15 million are still under floodwaters as a result of exactly that. More rain already falling this morning. It's very scattered across the northern coastline of California. A lot of that precept so concentrated across the northwest of the United States. But that low was going to take a dive south and more rain expected across the northern side of the California coastline.

See the yellows, the reds, even the purples popping. 10 inches of rain expected just through Tuesday and isolated higher amounts are possible. Areas highlighted in red, the North and Central coastline of California where considerable flooding is expected. On Monday into Tuesday, that transitions through the foothills and down through the southern parts of the coastline.

So these are areas that we'll have to watch closely below 5,000 feet. The whole system itself is going to take its track further east. Bring that moisture and bring in snow to the north and of course severe weather to the South that snow through the Ohio Valley this morning. Causing some tricky travel out that direction but the severe weather expected through the morning and into the afternoon hours.

All across the southeast to areas highlighted in yellow bringing in large hail, damaging winds and even isolated tornadoes. So quite a bit to look at here.

SANCHEZ: Yes, not limited to California. This atmospheric river thing is wild. Britley Ritz, thanks so much for the update.

New this morning, three women who live in Texas are believed to be missing in Mexico after they crossed the U.S. border more than two weeks ago.

FISHER: Texas authorities say on February 24th, the women crossed into Mexico enroute to sell some clothes at a flea market in the city of Montemorelos, a roughly three-hour drive from the border. Let's go to CNN's Polo Sandoval with the very latest on this investigation.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kristin and Boris, good morning to you. These three women are believed to have left a small South Texas town just over two weeks ago crossed into Mexico and they haven't been seen or heard from since. And now police in Texas are calling on the public on both sides of the border for any help in tracking them down.

I spoke to the Penitas police chief who tells me that these three women, Marina Perez Rios, her sister Maritza Trinidad Perez Rios, and their friend, Dora Alicia Cervantes, that they drove across the border just south of Mission, Texas back on February 24th, which was Friday with a husband of one of those sisters then turn to investigators the following Monday, when he was unable to contact them by phone.

He told investigators that the three women were heading to the city of Montemorelos in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which is some three hours drive south of the border. The husband telling investigators they plan to travel there to a flea market to sell clothes. The U.S. State Department telling CNN that they are aware of reports of three U.S. citizens missing in Mexico but they wouldn't go into great detail.

So local police there in Penitas then calling the FBI, as they basically tried to hand over that investigation to federal authorities, as you're about to hear from the police chief and his conversation with local affiliate KARE TV. Now turning to the community for any help.


BERMEAV: We're just concern if anybody has an information, I mean, they can contact us or contact the FBI and to see what information they can provide for us. This is the first time something like this reported to us. I mean, we really haven't had any any other incidents that I can recall on something like this happening in other country.


SANDOVAL: Getting to Montemorelos Mexico from South Texas by land usual requires driving through parts of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which if you look on the State Department's website, it's a region that's classified as a do not travel region because an increase of violence there.

Meanwhile, we have reached out to the FBI for more on these three missing women and we are still waiting to hear back. Boris, Kristin, back to you.

FISHER: Polo, thank you. And those three women disappeared just a week before four Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. The group was attacked while traveling from South Carolina to Mexico so that one of them, Latavia Washington McGee could undergo a medical procedure.

SANCHEZ: Sadly, they never made it. Two of the men she was traveling with were killed while she and a third man were found alive on Tuesday. CNN's Carlo Suarez has an update on this story.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Kristin, good morning. The Facebook Live video that CNN was able to obtain captures a group driving in Mexico before the kidnappings. CNN was able to geo locate the video to a street in the northern most section of Matamoros located near an off ramp from the bridge, the group used to cross into Mexico from Texas, a timeline from Mexican officials indicated that about two hours after the group drove into Mexico, a car began following them.

Now it's unclear what happened after the group crossed the border. We know they were supposed to be going to a medical appointment for one of the surviving victims, Latavia Washington McGee, McGee's friend Cheryl Orange said she made the trip to Texas, but did not cross the border because she did not have the proper identification.

According to Orange, the trip from Brownsville to the clinic was only supposed to take 15 minutes. On Friday, Mexican officials announced the arrest of five men. It's unclear if the men are the same group the drug cartel believed to be responsible for the kidnappings said they were going to hand over to authorities.

Later in the day, officials released some more information on just how they took custody of the men. In a tweet, Mexican officials said in part, quote, "Due to the conditions in which five men were found in Matamoros along with a car and a letter, they were initially treated as victims of crime. But this change it's a suspects when they began to report their participation in the events of March 3rd."

Here in South Carolina where the four victims lived, McGee told us that she is glad to be back home, that she's back with her family and that she's doing OK. The other survivor Eric Williams, he was shot several times and is still recovering in a hospital in Texas. The bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown have been turned over to U.S. authorities and the Woodard family hopes to bring his body back here to South Carolina on Wednesday.

Boris and Kristin? SANCHEZ: Carlos, thank you so much.

We want to take you now to Eastern Europe and highlight the latest on the war in Ukraine. The lights are back on in Kharkiv after Russia's bombardment of the city left thousands without electricity. Regional officials say that power has been fully restored in the city of Kharkiv and the surrounding region after an intense bombardment this week from Russia.

FISHER: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says more than 40 missiles have hit Kharkiv since the beginning of the year. CNN Correspondent Melissa Bell is following the developments in Kharkiv, and she joins us live. So Melissa, the lights are back on where you are. But I'm sure there are plenty of other problems that that city is facing right now. What can you tell us about it?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And yes, Kristin, it is an important symbol of this particular city's resilience. In fact, what we're seeing now is the metros just about functioning again, the electricity returned, not just to the city, but to the wider region.

And that is important because what we've seen over the course of the last few days, the last few weeks, as you mentioned, according to those comments by President Zelenskyy last night, is an aerial bombardments that are almost a daily occurrence.

It's easy to forget, because we pay so much attention to the fighting that's going on in East. But this city is on the border with Russia, and therefore within reach of those S-300 surface to air, Soviet era missiles that, of course, such devastation.

We also saw an important reminder of that war of attrition by Moscow that is really aimed at reminding people across the country that wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever they're doing, even if they are not the direct casualties of incoming missiles, there is always that danger to critical infrastructure.

For more than 48 hours, this city in the wider region were entirely without electricity. That means you can't wash, you can't clean, you can't heat yourself, the temperatures are pretty low. And this is something that this city has seen over and over again. More than 40 missiles since the start of the year is an astonishing number that this city has had to deal with.

And this particular square that I'm standing on in the very harsh of Kharkiv, one of the important parts of the city that in the very beginning was so hard hit by that aerial bombardment campaign. And yet, the lights in the city back on, the metro just about working again. And people are really doing what they can despite the air raid sirens that you hear pretty well day and night to continue and get around their lives, get back to their lives as best they can. Kristin and Boris?

SANCHEZ: Melissa Bell reporting live from Kyiv. Thank you so much, Melissa. Israeli defense forces say that three Palestinians were killed today in an exchange of fire. The Palestinian militant group Lion's Den says that the three were members of their organization.

FISHER: This comes as huge crowds took the streets in another round of anti-Israeli government protests. Organizers say more than half a million people joined in the demonstrations. CNN Correspondent Hadas Gold reports from the frontlines.


HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Boris, Kristin, we are in Jerusalem. This is one of dozens of protests taking place across Israel Saturday night. Organizers saying more than 500,000 people have come out to protest against these judicial reforms that among the most drastic measures would allow the Israeli parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.

Protesters here have been chanting things like Israel will not become a dictatorship, chanting things like democracy. And I've even seen an interesting mix of people. I saw one man with a sign saying I'm a right winger, and I'm against these judicial reforms. Keep in mind, the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the most right wing in Israeli history.

And actually, we're not far from the Israeli president's residence, where he gave an impassioned speech just a few days ago, saying that the country is at a point of no return and for the first time, speaking out against these reforms, saying that they are a threat to Israel's democratic foundations.

It's the first time that the Israeli President is speaking out specifically against these reforms. He says he's trying to get a consensus to try to get people around the table to negotiate a set of reforms that everybody can agree to. But so far, the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing forward with these plans at a very rapid pace.

They say these reforms are needed, that this will help bring balance between the branches of government. They say this is what the voters voted for when they voted their coalition into government back in November, and that they don't need the opposition votes. They have a majority in parliament and they will push forward with this.

But the protesters here say they are not stopping. They say they plan to continue their protests. They plan to continue what they call days of disruption, things like disrupting traffic. And they say that they plan to take these protests abroad. Benjamin Netanyahu is expecting take a trip to Berlin and official trip to Berlin and the protest organizers announcing they will meet him there to protest these reforms in front of Benjamin Netanyahu in Germany. Guys?

FISHER: Well, some business owners are trying to figure out how they're going to pay their employees in the wake of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. We're going to talk to one of them about his plans and the moment that he knew something was wrong. SANCHEZ: Plus, three train derailments in just over a month raising serious questions about railway safety. We're going to be joined by an expert for look at what's happening to the nation's railroads. And what reforms are needed to get back on track.



SANCHEZ: U.S. markets are feeling the fallout from the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Wall Street ended last week down and there are still questions about where it's going to pick up this week. And concerns over whether a financial contagion may lead other banks to fail.

Meantime, numerous firms that had accounts at SVB are scrambling to figure out their finances, including whether they'll have enough cash to pay their employees. TWG supply out of Texas is one of the companies that's been impacted. And its Director of Operations Bill Tyler joins us now live to discuss.

Bill, good morning. We appreciate you being up bright and early with us. Just first walk us through your reaction. When did you know that something was going wrong at SVB?

BILL TYLER, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, TWG SUPPLY: Right, and thanks, Boris. So I had never heard of SVB before mid-morning on Friday. And the first I knew anything was wrong was 6:30 in the morning, getting text messages from employees asking where their pay check was. And we have 18 great employees that provide fantastic service. And they deserve to be paid on time.

And so when you're running a business, you have that burden not just for your employees, but for their families. So we may only have 18 people in our firm, but there's 70 or 80 people that are depending on us to pay them on time for what they're owed. And we use a PEO, it's a professional employer organization to handle our H.R. and our payroll functions.

And so those funds were at arm's length to us at SVB. We had no knowledge or relationship with SVB. But our payroll was taken out on Tuesday. And I have every assumption once that goes out that my employees are going to receive that. And so it was a long time into Friday before I even heard of SVB or that the FDIC was taking it over.

And I was being told by the PEO that well, SVB has given us every assurance that these deposits will be made on time and in full. And then it became clearer and clearer that that wasn't going to be the case. It was fairly unprecedented for the FDIC to come in that early on a Friday. Normally that would be, you know, end of the day.

So, when we saw that that would gone into receivership, we made the decision as TWG supply. We're going to dip into our operating funds and we're going to rerun this payroll and put out live checks to our employees because I never want to put an employee in the position of having to ask, hey, can you wait another week for your pay check while the FDIC sorts this out.

And then complicating that is while our payroll was for that week, was less than $250,000, and if it had been in our bank would have been insured, our payroll was bundled with other people's payroll and was --


TYLER: -- well north of $25,000. So we don't know that that money will ever be paid back in full. And to our PEOs' credit, they put out their operating funds into a new account, and it started trying to make deposits that way through a different bank.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I was going to ask you about that because obviously the FDIC insures up to $250,000. But then beyond that with a third party that you're you seem to manage payroll, that's a very complicated problem.


I'm wondering when you were getting those text messages from your employees, what was going through your mind, and how did you respond to them?

TYLER: Well, first, I don't want them to have their faith in our company shaken in any way. And then beyond that, just that we've made the right decisions on who we do business with, as far as what bank do we use? Well, we use one of the major banks that would have been more stress tested than SVB, as large as they were, their CEO lobbied to raise those levels from 50 billion to 250 billion to exclude himself from those stress tests.

And really, from the minute I got a text message that we hadn't made these deposits, my mind is going to how do I take care of these employees? I took everyone out for lunch on Friday, because I didn't want them to have to think about, is there enough money in my account to do this?

It really does become all about the employee quickly, but really highlights that I need to ask more questions of everything. And that shows that at least my face been rocked in the U.S. banking system.

SANCHEZ: You sound like a very considerate boss, Bill, I'm sure your employees appreciate that. But to pick up on where you just left off, and some of that doubt, in speaking with experts, there is a bit of disagreement. I mean, we've heard from the White House, Treasury and notable economists, they don't believe that this is going to be as widespread as what we saw in 2008.

They believe this is pretty limited to small banks. But as you noted, these higher interest rates, they can complicate the picture for these middle level banks, and especially ones that have investments that are betting on interest rates remaining at a certain level. What do you think the federal government should do to perhaps step in and fix the problem with SVB and some of these other banks that might be at risk? TYLER: Well, regulations like Dodd-Frank, they need even more teeth than they have currently. That is, what the government should be, therefore, is not just to be the backstop when things go wrong, but to know that all these firms are liquid enough that they can cover these deposits that they're having to make to in terms of payroll or just withdrawals in general. Really, it needs to be greater regulation with more teeth on enforcement.

SANCHEZ: Bill Tyler, we got to leave the conversation there. So sorry that you have to deal with his headache, but we appreciate you sharing your story with us.

TYLER: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

FISHER: Still ahead, railway safety in the national spotlight now after three, three Norfolk Southern train derailments in just over a month. We're going to talk to an expert about what needs to happen next.



SANCHEZ: We want to get a quick check at your morning's top stories. Authorities in Iran have arrested more than 100 people in connection with a suspected poisoning of hundreds of schoolgirls. Many of them were treated at hospitals for unexplained illnesses in recent months. Iran's state-run news reports that those arrested come from several cities, including Tehran. And according to the interior ministry, some of them wanted to create fear and horror that would lead to classrooms being shut down. The suspected attacks come as Iranian leaders faced women's protests over strict dress codes.

Back in the United States, sources tell CNN, the Biden administration is going to approve the controversial Willow Project. The decision would allow drilling for oil in the natural petroleum preserve in Alaska. The area is owned by the federal government and holds up to 600 million barrels of oil. Now, climate activists have protested the project, worried about the impact on wildlife and the environment. But some natives in Alaska support the project, arguing that it would bring some much-needed jobs and revenue to a very remote region. On Friday, the White House pushed back on the story, saying that no formal decision had been made.

And from space, crashing down to earth, four astronauts are back on land after a five-month stay aboard the International Space Station. Their SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico late last night. Rescue ships were in the area to pull the capsule from the ocean and get the crew out. They've spent the past few months carrying out research experiments and keeping up with maintenance of the now two-decade-old orbiting laboratory.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Got to love a good nighttime splashdown. Well, clean-up efforts are now underway in Alabama after another Norfolk Southern train derailed, Thursday, in Calhoun County. It's the latest in a string of derailments nationwide that's raising concerns about safety on the tracks. And now, railroad officials believe there are nearly 700 railcars across the country that could have an issue with loose or defective wheels.

Here with me now Allan Zarembski, he's the director of the Railway Engineering and Safety Program at the University of Delaware. Allan, thanks so much for getting up early and joining us this morning.


FISHER: Yes, sure. So, 700 potentially defective railcars nationwide according to the Association of American Railroads. I mean, that is just a massive number. Why so many? What's being done about it?

ZAREMBSKI: Well, my understanding is that this was a specific new car that was just recently put in service or a new group of cars that were put in service. And that the -- my understanding is the reactions are being very, very active -- very reactive. The -- both the Norfolk Southern and the Association of American Railroads have put out an advisory asking the railroads to find the cars --


-- bring them into a shop and basically replace the wheels or axles that are causing the problem. So, I think you're going to see a very fast reaction on this.

FISHER: Well, that's good to hear, especially since roughly 200 of the 700 defective railcars are owned by Norfolk Southern, the company that's responsible for three derailments, including the one in East Palestine, Ohio, in recent weeks. You know, the NTSB is now opening a special investigation into the company. Depending on what the NTSB finds, what can it do in terms of forcing some changes within that company to make it safer?

ZAREMBSKI: Well, the NTSB by itself traditionally does not have any regulatory authority. The NTSB has the ability to make recommendations to the Federal Railway Administration. The Federal Railway Administration is the government entity that has regulatory and safety oversights. So, it has the ability of introducing additional regulations, introducing fines. It has specific legal oversight capability.

FISHER: Allan, you know, a lot of us are really tuning in to train derailments for the first time in quite a while or perhaps in a way that we hadn't in the past given what happened in East Palestine, Ohio, and some of the other recent derailments. Do you see this as just another, you know, derailment, another string of derailments that just happens or is this, perhaps, really a watershed moment for the entire industry?

ZAREMBSKI: Well, in looking at the derailment statistics, the Federal Railway Administration maintains a very good database of accidents and derailments. And looking at the trends over the last couple of years, there doesn't seem to be any bump in accidents or any bump in derailments that happens. In fact, last year was a slight drop in the number of derailments that were reported.

Having said that, what seems to be happening is an increased awareness of what's going on. I guess the Palestine, Ohio derailment has really put a focus on railroad safety. And while there has been no increase or no significant degradation of safety, the whole issue of whether we can continue to do better, whether we can reduce some of these derailments is coming into the forefront. And I think we are going to see a movement introduction of technology -- additional introduction of technology, which is a direction the industry has been working towards for a long while to see if we can find some of these very unusual accidents.

The problem we're dealing with here is the fact that we don't have a single large category of accidents that if we only solve this problem, the overheated bearing accidents that we saw in Palestine, Ohio, is a -- not a common accident mode (ph). I think there were 11 of them last year out of the entire tons of millions train miles of traffic.

FISHER: Allan, I got to leave --

ZAREMBSKI: Likewise -- sorry.

FISHER: So sorry to interrupt, but I got to leave it there. And I sure hope you're right, that change is on the way. Allan Zarembski, thanks so much.

ZAREMBSKI: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Still ahead this morning, there has been a sudden spike in new bills targeting drag events nationwide. What is behind it? We are going to dig deeper next.



SANCHEZ: We are seeing this trend now across the country, Kentucky's Senate has passed a bill aimed at limiting drag shows and it's now headed to the Republican-led Statehouse where it's expected to pass.

FISHER: Sponsors of these bills in several states say that their aim is to protect children. But more than 300 anti-LBGTQ measures have been proposed across the U.S. And critics argue that the measures are an attempt to take rights away from minorities. CNN's Lucy Kafanov spoke with those caught in the crosshairs of America's latest civil rights movement.


KYLEE O'HARA FATALE, DRAG PERFORMER: Drag actually saved my life.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): For Timothy Sherwood (ph), drag is more than just a job.

FATALE: I feel beautiful. I feel ethereal. I feel colorful. I feel bright. And that is the last step.

KAFANOV (voiceover): He left the teaching career in Dallas to perform full time as Kylee O'Hara Fatale.

FATALE: Kylie like, showed me who my true, kind of, self was. My true voice.

KAFANOV (voiceover): But that voice could soon be silenced in Texas which is considering at least four bills seeking to restrict drag performances.

FATALE: If these bills become law, my livelihood is at risk. I don't even want to imagine a life where I can't be the person that I worked so hard to finally figure out who I am. To fully have all that just ripped away, it would be soul crushing.

REP. BRYAN SLATON (R-TX): Grown men dancing in their underwear in front of children, asking for money --

KAFANOV (voiceover): Texas State Representative Bryan Slaton says the bills are designed to protect minors.

SLATON: I think it's important to protect children from any adult that wants to sexualize this. Right now, the only group of people that is trying to sexualize children are the drag performances.

KAFANOV (voiceover): Drag has become a target amongst conservatives which shows an -- even literacy events like drag queen story hour sparking protest and targeted attacks from right-wing extremist groups in some states.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The book is called, "Love the World" --

KAFANOV (voiceover): Texas is just one of at least 18 states seeking to restrict drag.

CROWD: Drag story (ph) has got to go --

KAFANOV (voiceover): The rights groups say, it's part of a broader attack on the queer community.

KELLEY ROBINSON, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: We're seeing states across this country in a race to the bottom in terms of attacking LGBTQ+ folks. Over 400 bills attacking our community have been introduced, and it's only March of this year.

KAFANOV (voiceover): Many of the proposed bills would make it illegal for an establishment to host a drag show, unless it's classified as a sexually oriented business.

JAY ANDERSON, OWNER, ANDERSON DISTILLERY AND GRILL: If somebody came in and said, today, you know, you're a sexually oriented business, that would it.

KAFANOV (on camera): You'd have to close your doors.

ANDERSON: You'd have to close your doors, yes. There's no way.

KAFANOV (voiceover): Jay Anderson runs a distillery and grill near Fort Worth, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to keep the show moving right along.

KAFANOV (voiceover): His business has already taken a hit when an attempt to host a family-friendly drag brunch featuring his son as a performer resulted in protests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am here to support people that don't indoctrinate and groom little eight -year-old kids --

ANDERSON: This map tracks, basically, all the death threats we received.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys, again.

ANDERSON: This drag show causes me to close my business and I lose all the money I put into it, but I save one kid who didn't kill himself, I don't care.

KAFANOV (voiceover): Some critics say the bills are too broad and could target transgender people by defining drag as the act of appearing in public in a gender different than the one assigned at birth.

DAHLIA KNOWLES, POP VOCALIST: The problem is that a lot of the public, especially in Republican states, isn't able to make the distinction between what a drag queen is and what a transwoman is. Because I'm trans and can be perceived as a drag queen in a public space, like, what does that mean for my gigs?

KAFANOV (voiceover): Dahlia Knowles is a Dallas-based pop singer who performs under the name Lorelai Kay (ph). She worries the broadly written legislation would categorize her as a drag performer simply because she's a transgender woman.

KNOWLES: I'm not impersonating a gender. This is my gender. The idea that, like, I have to perform at sexually oriented business whenever my act isn't sexually oriented it's just like absurd.

KAFANOV (on camera): So, it's not just about drag?

KNOWLES: No. This is just the tip of the iceberg. They are trying to eradicate transgender people from the public eye. It's not a debate about whether or not I exist. I do exist. Like, I'm here. And the message that I'm receiving is that I am not wanted here.

KAFANOV: While these bills are part of an unprecedented effort to target members of the LGBTQ+ community, unprecedented in their sheer volume, the umped (ph) rhetoric by far-right commentators and these lawmakers is coming at a time of increasing violence against this community. Even if these bills don't become law, the people we've spoken to say, it's already creating a climate of fear. Leaving them feeling like they are being pushed back into the closet. Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Denver.


FISHER: Lucy, thank you.

Coming up, it is Hollywood's biggest night. Boris, what to watch for at this year's Oscars. Hopefully, it's not another slap. We're going to have that next.

SANCHEZ: I was hoping for another slap. We'll see.



SANCHEZ: Tonight, is Hollywood's biggest night, the 95th annual Academy Awards. And if the run-up to the Oscars proves anything, "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is the front-runner.

FISHER: But it is last year's infamous slap that still has everyone talking. Boris is still, like, hoping that we're going to get some excitement like that this year. I don't know about that. We are going to --

SANCHEZ: We haven't talked about the Oscars in so long. And this slap has us actually talking about it.

FISHER: You're right. And you know what else is going to have us talking about it, the white red carpet. CNN's Stephanie Elam has more.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, 95TH ACADEMY AWARDS: And when we're done with this, we're going to be carpeting all of Hollywood.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): The Oscars are back, the first since the slap made Hollywood's biggest night, the Academy's biggest nightmare.

CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: It still hurts.

ELAM (voiceover): Just a week after Chris Rock took aim at Will Smith --

KIMMEL: The second I saw Will Smith get up out of his seat, I would have been halfway to the Wetzel's Pretzels.

ELAM (voiceover): All eyes will be on host Jimmy Kimmel who says he will address the slap.

KIMMEL: You know, comedians are mad about it. It's one of those things that, for a group of people that find everything funny, it's like not funny, you know. But of course, it's -- you know, you have to.

ELAM (voiceover): The fallout also upends Oscar tradition, since Smith won best actor last year.

MATTHEW BELLONI, FOUNDING PARTNER, PUCK AND FORMER EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: They have to find somebody to present best actress, because, typically, the tradition is if you win best actor, you come back and you present best actress. But that's not going to happen because he's banned from the show.

ELAM (voiceover): This year's drama should come from the awards. Possible upsets.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS, SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEE: I have been an actress since I was 19.

ELAM (voiceover): A late SAG Award search from Jamie Lee Curtis could lift her over supporting actress favorite Angela Bassett, neither veteran has ever won.

ELAM (on camera): What does that mean for you?

ANGELA BASSETT, SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEE: You know what, it's just a clear example that you've got to hold on.

BRENDAN FRASER, ACTOR, "THE WHALE": I'm inspiring. I'm breathing.

ELAM (voiceover): Sagging critics' choice winner Brendan Fraser will go down to the wire with Austin Butler for best actor.

AUSTIN BUTLER, ACTOR, "ELVIS": I am ready. Ready to fly.

ELAM (voiceover): The "Elvis" star won a BAFTA, the British Oscar, a bellwether since the Academy has welcomed more international voters.

BAZ LUHRMANN, DIRECTOR, "ELVIS": Denzel Washington said to me, you are about to work with a young actor, because he had just worked with him, whose work ethic is like no other. He was right.


ELAM (voiceover): If there's an Oscar shocker, it could be for best actress where Michelle Yeoh is expected to win for "Everything Everywhere All at Once."



ELAM (voiceover): Cate Blanchett's BAFTA win keeps her competitive. But the outlier, Andrea Riseborough, whose role as an alcoholic in the small film, "To Leslie" led to social media push inside Hollywood that won her a surprise nomination. She was allowed to remain a contender after an Academy investigation into the tactics of the campaign. A probe that upsets some of Riseborough supporters.

BELLONI: There could be a protest vote that goes on here. And if there is a shocker on Oscar night, it's going to be if she wins.


ELAM: And Tom Cruise is expected to return to the Oscars, not as an acting nominee but as a producer on "Top Gun: Maverick" which is up for best picture. But if it wins, that will be a shocker since "Everything, Everywhere All at Once" is expected to win that category. Back to you.

FISHER: Thank you, Stephanie. Thanks for watching. And thank you Boris for letting me sit alongside you.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Happy to do it. I think our producers are going to slap me for chatting too much. Thanks so much for joining us this morning "Inside Politics Sunday" is next.