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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Who Will Lead House Democrats? California Fires. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, they haven't even moved into their new offices yet. I don't know if they have even had the lottery yet. But for freshman representatives who pledged they would not vote for Nancy Pelosi, the pressure is on to break that promise.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because they're facing pressure from both sides, from Pelosi supporters, who are starting to woo them, urging them to get behind Nancy Pelosi for speaker, who does not have any sort of candidate who is running against her.

And also they need her support in a lot of ways to elevate themselves within the caucus if she is elected speaker. They will need positions on key committees. So these new members facing a lot of pressure, even though 10 freshman members said they would vote against her and 13 incumbent Democrats also said they would vote against her.

The question is, will they do that, ultimately? Now, today, we caught up with some of those members who made it clear they're still making up their minds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VERONICA ESCOBAR (D), TEXAS CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: There's got to be paths for everybody to get there. But this moment, this time in American history, I think she is the leader.

HARLEY ROUDA (D), CALIFORNIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Last question, I'm looking at the fact that whoever is running for any of the elected positions in leadership requires me to do appropriate due diligence and then I will make a decision after that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, the process here is important, because later this month, the House Democratic Caucus will vote to nominate their candidate for speaker. And a majority of those members will vote for that person.

It will be almost certainly Nancy Pelosi will get the majority of support within the Democratic Caucus. Now, next year, though, is the big vote, in January to actually elect the speaker. That's when the majority of the full House will decide how to vote.

And some of those freshmen and incumbent Democrats who have said they would oppose Pelosi are not saying they will vote no on the floor of the House, which will be that key vote. And that's when all the pressure will mount for them to choose a side and we will see if they ultimately come out against Nancy Pelosi, even though right now no candidate has yet emerged.

And she has an overwhelming support for most of the Democratic Caucus, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

So, Paul and everyone else, let's do the math. Right now Democrats hold 225 seats in the House. Here's a list of incumbents and incoming Democrats who have previously said they are no on Pelosi, 23 total. As of now, Pelosi needs 218 votes to become speaker, as of January. That leaves us at 202 yes votes right now.

We still have these 10 seats undecided. But even if they all vote for Democrats and all voted for Pelosi, that's 212. That's not enough. So is Nancy Pelosi going to be the next speaker?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

TAPPER: So what's going to happen? They're going to break their promises.

BEGALA: Well, no, I think they can vote present and then that actually lowers the threshold down from 218, under House rules. That's a cheat there, a little play in the joint of the system.

But the Democrats are taking the majority because of women, women candidates, women volunteers, women donors, women voters. And if my party fires the first woman speaker after being given the majority by women, there would be hell to pay. And there ought to be.

By the way, all those attacks on Nancy Pelosi didn't stop the Democrats from having the best election they have had in 44 years in the midterm. So I am actually not terribly frightened of the attacks on Pelosi anymore. They tried their best. Over 100,000 ads targeted her and the Democrats won a huge blue wave, actually, a landslide, given the gerrymander districts. So I think it's fine.

TAPPER: An interesting statistic. I believe that of the 23 no's on Pelosi, as of now, who knows how they're ultimately going to vote, six of those 23 are women, meaning that's an overwhelmingly male no caucus.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me speak up for Nancy Pelosi, unexpectedly.

TAPPER: Interesting. He's speaking for Melania, and you're speaking for Nancy Pelosi.

(CROSSTALK) HAM: And not because I think it's electorally advantageous maybe on the margins to have her in that position, which I do, for Republicans. But, look, Democrats had a good night. She wasn't walking away when they were having terrible nights.

This is one of my favorite things about her. In the press conference after shellacking, you're going to walk away from this? She's like, nah, pass. I raised a lot of money, I'm real powerful and I'm sticking right with this.

And so it's hard to reason that she should now in the wake of this. And further she does raise a lot of money. And if they vote against her, there's this -- there's all the committee stuff where she has the power to say I'm going to put you on the committee of like small appliance regulation, and people don't take kindly to that because it doesn't help them serve their folks.

TAPPER: I'm told, by the way -- I'm sorry -- we got it wrong. It's seven of the 23 are female. Still an overwhelming no male caucus. Do you want to see Pelosi as speaker of the House?

(CROSSTALK)

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I have said this before and I'm going to say it again. There is an argument to be made that we should be building a pipeline for leadership in the Democratic Party from the House of Representatives to Senate all the way on down the line.

But the fact of the matter is, if someone would like Nancy Pelosi's job, they need to demonstrate they can do it just as good if not better than her. And no one has done that. No one has demonstrated they can raise the money Leader Pelosi can raise, that they can keep a caucus together the way she has been able to do.

[16:35:02]

That they can put their feet on the road, hit the pavement and, you know, really make a difference. So I think that she will be the next speaker.

I think the real battle will be who -- what does the other House leadership look like on the Democratic side? As it stands now, we just lay it all out there. It would be overwhelmingly white, and Jim Clyburn as the whip.

And so there's questions now about how can we -- yes, we need women. We need people of color. We need to make sure that the leadership of representative of the entire -- of what we say the country is, but, frankly, what the Democratic Party says they stand for.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, listen to the arguments, the arguments being made. I'm going to sound bite for question three now. The argument being made for Pelosi's leadership from some of her allies, who have said, we need to elect Pelosi as the second female House speaker.

She was also the first House speaker who was a woman. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Now that we have all of these won coming into the Congress, it would be a damn shame that you then replaced this fearless leader with a man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Elijah Cummings, who is going to be the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Do you agree?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, she's powerful. She's led them to victory. She has locked up all of the powerful committee chairs. She knows what she's doing and people are scared of her.

Look to the fact there are more House Democrats willing to run for president than to challenge Nancy Pelosi for speaker. And if she really gets in trouble on the floor vote, I bet there's a good number of Republicans would vote for her, because, as Mary Katharine pointed out, she is still a great boogeyman they are addicted to making ads about.

TAPPER: One of the most high-profile incoming freshmen or freshwomen is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman-elect from New York.

And she went to Pelosi's office for the first time today for a climate change protest. She was asked by our Sunlen Serfaty if this is a preview of what is to come for Democratic leadership.

Here's what she said.

Oh.

"This is not about personality. This is not about rebuke. It's not about confrontation. It's about making sure we are getting the job done."

What does that mean?

SANDERS: If I could say, you know, I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes from the world of protests. She has been an activist and she's been an agitator.

I think there is something to be said about when activists and agitators become elected officials. And now her role has to shift a little bit. So perhaps she shouldn't be in the protest outside Leader Pelosi's office. Perhaps she should have a meeting with Leader Pelosi to talk about her concerns.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: But the fact of the matter is, what we're going to see in this next Congress is a new wave of young people that are going to shake things up, that are willing to do things a little bit differently.

But we might need to be a little flexible in terms of what we bring into the Congress.

TAPPER: That's Symone Sanders -- @SymoneSanders is her Twitter handle. I didn't say that. Symone did.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: That's good advice.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I'm saying that because of this. Everybody has to play a role. We need activists, we need advocates, we need elected officials.

You know, I like to say, I'm not a real activist. I just play one on TV, because I can't be out there in the die-in. I need to sitting on CNN telling folks why people are dying in.

We need our elected officials to legislate. And I think that's what we're going to get out of the 116th Congress.

TAPPER: So then there is also, Paul, the impeachment issue, OK? According to CNN's midterm exit polls, 77 percent -- 77 percent of Democrats support impeaching President Trump.

A "Washington Post" analysis found only 21 percent of new House Democrats are ready to talk impeachment. What do they do?

BEGALA: They wait for the Republicans to ask them to impeach the president, and they don't do it until then.

But let's wait to see what the Mueller report says. Even I shouldn't prejudge it. I'm sure the president is guilty of everything because I don't like him. But don't let my prejudice...

CARPENTER: Transparency.

BEGALA: Right.

No, but my point is, don't just give into your prejudice. You ask me, as a Democrat, do I want to get Trump out of office? Of course I do, tomorrow, please. But that's not the process.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: So don't follow the Democratic base is what you're saying?

BEGALA: That's right.

And when George W. Bush was president and Nancy Pelosi was speaker the last time, there was huge pressure for her to impeach Dick Cheney first and then Bush, because, of course, they're horrible, evil people. She wouldn't even have it discussed. She will not have it even discussed again until the Republicans come

to her and say, help us impeach this guy.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think these two stories of a piece, where the temptation, as Symone points out, is to do the activist thing that you did before you came to Congress, if you're a particularly woke member of Congress who is just getting here.

And that won't play well. Same with this kind of thing. And Nancy Pelosi, by the way, I think broadcast some of this in her post- election speech, when she did not go after Trump.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

He stayed behind with his elderly blind mother to fight the deadliest wildfire in the history of California with a garden hose -- that incredible story coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:44:05]

TAPPER: In our national lead today, 42 people today are dead, even more acing as the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, continues to spread and wreak havoc, destroying more than 6,000 homes and reducing entire towns in California to ashes.

And this is just one of three fires raging in California right now, the other two just outside Los Angeles, and also deadly and destructive.

Hurricane-force gusts are expected to fuel those fires today, where 21 million people are all under a red flag warning, the highest possible alert.

Let's go back to the beast in Northern California, where we find CNN's Nick Valencia.

And, Nick, you talked to someone who has stayed behind as the fire came in.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, despite all the images of devastation here in Paradise, four days after this fire ripped through this community, taking 90 percent with it, we're hearing incredible stories of survival.

We talked to one man who chose not to leave and lived to tell about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRAD WELDON, FIRE SURVIVOR: Everything around us was on fire and we knew it was time.

VALENCIA: While everyone else in Paradise was fleeing the fire, Brad Weldon decided to stay put at home and fight it himself. WELDON: For the first few hours --

VALENCIA: You're using this garden hose?

WELDON: This garden hose, one out there one in the front, one on the roof, and one out by the shop.

VALENCIA: So how much help do you have? I mean, you have --

WELDON: Me and my 26-year-old helper, my mom's caregiver.

VALENCIA: Inside, his 89-year-old mother Norma Weldon was blind, she didn't want to leave, so the two men went outside to fight the blaze as it closed in on them.

WELDON: There was times we were laying on the ground pouring the water on ourselves so we didn't burn.

VALENCIA: Was there ever a point where you thought that you --

WELDON: Oh yes, quite a few, quite a few.

VALENCIA: Four hours into battling the blaze, the garden hose runs out of water so they used his above-ground pool.

WELDON: And then as time to start running on five-gallon buckets and that's even more intense. You're already tired.

VALENCIA: Who are you? Who are you?

WELDON: I'm just old man. I'm just an old guy, man.

VALENCIA: Just an old man who wanted to keep his home from burning up.

WELDON: Yes.

VALENCIA: He recorded cell phone video as his home began to burn.

WELDON: It feels good to have it. I feel so sad for everyone. Everybody I know lost everything and it's sad. The Camp Fire tearing through Northern California is now the most lethal fire in state history. Responsible for at least 42 deaths and now 30 percent contained. The Woolsey fire also remains active in Southern California destroying 93 thousand acres so far. In Butte County alone, more than 1,500 welfare checks had been called into officials from residents who cannot find their loved ones. Brad and his friend Mick McCreary consider themselves lucky.

WELDON: We got some donations, we got a few loaves of bread.

VALENCIA: Five days after surviving the blaze, they say they still have enough supplies to last a few days. Police have told them, if they leave to get more, they won't be allowed to return to the home they nearly died to save. I'm not asking anybody for a handout, I'm just asking to be able to take care of myself. If they'll let me do that, we can live here indefinitely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: It's an incredible story. Just such a positive person there, Jake. He says though he's surrounded by so much to be discouraged, he's determined to see paradise rebuild. And just a little while ago we learned that the Secretary of Interior is expected to come to California to visit with those affected by the fire. Weldon tells me that he wants President Trump to visit here. He says he voted for the president and says that this is too big of a disaster for President Trump not to show up here. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Nick Valencia in Paradise, California, thanks so much. Switching to our "POLITICS LEAD." After a tough loss to Democrats for Arizona's Senate

seat, remains unclear as of now when voters will learn who has officially won the Senate seat from Florida with lawsuits from Democrats and Republicans being filed. And despite the requests of a Florida judge that politicians ramp down their rhetoric about the Florida recounts, continued tweets containing false and incendiary allegations by the president are issued. CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me now from Florida.

And Ryan, Republican Rick Scott is up more than 12,000 votes in the Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. What are the counties doing in Florida right now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they're still counting and they're going to continue counting until that 3:00 p.m. deadline on Thursday. This of course, the recount of the initial count that came in Saturday. And as it stands right now, most of these counties are confident they'll get it done on time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: For the first time since before Election Day, Bill Nelson still hoping to hold on to a seat in the U.S. Senate appeared in public. The Florida Democrat trailing Governor Rick Scott by more than 12,000 votes and clinging to the extremely unlikely hope, a recount will turn the tide in his favor return to Washington appearing with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer vowing to make sure every vote was counted.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: It has become clear that my opponent isn't interested in making sure that every lawful vote is counted. He's thrown around words like voter fraud with no proof. We will work to see that the recount is conducted fairly and that the rule of law is followed.

NOBLES: Nelson's legal team has filed a flurry of lawsuits designed to challenge existing Florida law and the way Florida law is implemented. Four different suits will force a judge to rule on the state's signature match requirements, deadlines, and postmarks per vote by mail ballots, intervening in a lawsuit to extend the recount time in Palm Beach County, and the validity of the rules regarding voter intent. LEONARD SAMUELS, PARTNER, BERGER SINGERMAN LLP: There are

constitutional issues that are raised by the standards and they have every right to raise those issues in a court of law where a judge will decide.

NOBLES: Testimony in those cases starts tomorrow. For his part, President Trump remains very interested in this race tweeting about it for the second day in a row, calling on Nelson to concede and still hinting that the recount process could be tainted. To be clear, there's been no direct evidence of any attempt to purposely corrupt the counting process, but Republicans continue to hammer at the Nelson teams legal approach to the issue calling it desperate and calling for Nelson to accept his loss gracefully.

[16:50:17] BRAD TODD, SENIOR ADVISER TO GOV. RICK SCOTT'S SENATE CAMPAIGN: And he wants to shine a light on the non-compliance with Florida's anti-fraud laws. Fraud hides in the shadows of non- compliance.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, the counting churns on. Some smaller counties are aiming to have their recounts complete by today. All eyes though remain on heavily populated and heavily Democratic Broward County where Brenda Snipes the beleaguered Supervisor of Elections whose competence has been questioned promised that despite a delay they will get their work done on time. Snipes under fire from even the former governor who appointed her to the position suggested she's on her way out the door.

BRENDA SNIPES, SUPERVISOR OF ELECTION, BROWARD COUNTY: Well, I haven't finalized that. I'll just check with my family. They'll tell me what I'm doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And tonight we are outside a federal court. That's where that testimony will be heard on some of those key lawsuits that are a big part of this recount. And Jake, the question is does Bill Nelson have any chance of truly flipping this race if he doesn't win one or more of these lawsuits? It's important to remember that no election in American history has ever come -- overcome the number of votes that are between these two candidates in a recount and change the results from election night. Jake?

TAPPER: You're giving me flashbacks, Ryan. Thanks so much. Good report from Tallahassee. Now to our "WORLD LEAD." Is the Trump Whitehouse helping the Saudi Crown Prince cover up his alleged role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi? New audio could link the killing to the Saudi Crown Prince but the Trump Administration today said that it does not necessarily agree with that interpretation.

According to the New York Times, a member of the assassination team is on tape telling a superior to "tell your boss that the mission was complete." U.S. intelligence officials believe that boss is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The Times reports. But without having heard the tape himself, today the President's National Security Adviser John Bolton refrained from such a conclusion.

I want to bring in Bob Baer. He was a CIA operative and is now a CNN Intelligence Analyst. Bob, from your days as a CIA operative, do you see this tape and what we know of it as a smoking gun? Could the speaker be referring to anyone else other than the Crown Prince when he says tell your boss?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: No. I mean, the way Saudi Arabia is run today is Mohammed bin Salman is an autocrat. Security services, the rest of the country, he's in control. The Saudis do not have rogue operations ever. It's never occurred. The chances that Mohammed bin Salman ordered this are -- we're hitting 100 percent. I think in this tape is more confirmation. (INAUDIBLE), his aide who ran this operation apparently, he's the guy you would call and tell -- would tell Mohammed bin Salman.

But frankly the White House at this point doesn't know what to do. I think they would like to wedge this guy out, the Crown Prince but they don't know how. So they are stuck with this guy and I don't see the Saudis getting rid of them either. So you know, we have a psychopath sitting on in the -- you know, in Riyadh controlling this country.

TAPPER: It does seem as though you have the Intelligence Community leaking to the New York Times saying this is what we heard and this is what we think it is. We think it is a direct link to the Crown Prince and then Ambassador Bolton the National Security Adviser asked about it and he says you know, I haven't heard the tape but for the people who have heard it don't think that you know, they don't reach that conclusion. But some of them have heard that the tape and have reached that conclusion.

BAER: Oh I think with anybody in a sense would reach that conclusion, the Turks certainly have and they have a lot of information. And just the fact that the prince -- the Crown Prince's entourage, his security detail participated in the murder tells me all I need to know, and I think anybody who knows Saudi Arabia. You know, we at this point the White House, they don't see a way out, frankly. They do not see a way out. Saudi Arabia is a volcano right now and to try to push the Crown Prince out, we don't have any you know things -- players there on our side, we don't know what to do.

TAPPER: So it's almost as if you see just like being you know, in strict Machiavellian real politic, the White House is helping the Crown Prince cover up a crime but the U.S. doesn't really haven't any options here without the entire region exploding. That seems to be what you're saying.

BAER: Exactly. I think Saudi Arabia, there's a stability problem. The Crown Prince has gotten rid of all the family consensus which has run Saudi Arabia since 32. He's thrown the national guard commanders in jail, and no Saudi prince has ever done this ever in its history. And I think what worries the White House is this country could pop. And what would we do? Frankly, it sits on a third of the world's oil reserves if you can -- if you include the other Arab (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: So it's the same kind of bargain that U.S. policymakers have been making for decades with Saudi Arabia about its behavior, its human rights abuses, what it's doing in Yemen, etcetera, they're too important and it's too important for -- to keep that powder-keg the lid on it right now.

[16:55:13] BAER: And the world's economy. We've always turned a blind eye to what's going on in Saudi Arabia right from the beginning, human rights and violations, wars, 9/11, and the rest of it, and you know, we're stuck again. But it could be worse this time.

TAPPER: You're depressing me, Bob thank you so much. I appreciate your analysis. Coming up, more on the breaking news coming out of the White House. A source telling CNN President Trump has made the decision to fire that Deputy National Security Adviser, but what does any of this have to do with his wife who called for her firing? Stay with us.