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THE SITUATION ROOM

Wildfires Devastate Southern California; Interview With Charlie Rangel

Aired October 22, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, breaking news, the red hot destruction out of control and worse than anyone imagined, wildfires are tearing through southern California right now. Hundreds of thousands of people have their homes and their businesses on the line. We'll go there live.

Plus a powerful Democrat now declaring war on the tax code and on Rudy Giuliani. The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, blasting Giuliani's personal life in some pretty stark terms. I'll ask him what's going on.

And the U.S. looks for Disney magic to try to repair its image around the world. We're going to take a closer look at the Hollywood giant's role in helping the U.S. government make America seem more friendly.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Wrenching news from the fire lines in southern California tonight. Fire officials reporting 128 homes already destroyed by flames near the mountain resort of Lake Arrowhead. That's on top of dozens of other homes burned and fires raging tonight from the Mexican border all the way up to Santa Barbara. Fires that have forced a quarter of a million people to evacuate their homes.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now from the fire lines in hard-hit San Diego. Dan, what is going on? What is the latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well hi, Wolf. Nine homes on this one block where we are totally leveled by this fire. If you can take a look over here, it's just unbelievable to take a look at this, such widespread devastation. People who live here, they're accustomed to wildfires but they tell us even this one caught them by surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VOICE OF NICK SAMANIEGO, RED CROSS SPOKESMAN, RESIDENT: I've lived my whole life here in southern California and we go through our wildfires every single year but this seems to be a little bit bigger than what we're typically dealing with.

SIMON (voice-over): They're actually massive. Parts of southern California are like a raging inferno. Wildfires are scorching the earth from Malibu to San Diego. GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: We are stretched to the limits when it comes to resources.

SIMON: Officials in San Diego actually say there are more houses burning than they have people and fire trucks to fight them. One simply suggests that many people are going to lose their homes. Already in San Diego, fires have burned 100,000 acres, 250,000 people have fled their homes and nursing home residents and a hospital are also evacuating. Part of the problem rapid winds fanning the fires are sending burning embers flying through the air and those embers can start fires wherever they land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a fear that it will burn completely to the ocean.

SIMON: In San Bernardino County in the Lake arrowhead area, two fires burn. Firefighters don't have a handle on either of them. Possibly 1,900 homes are threatened, and some report seeing flames as high as 200 feet, and in Malibu, fires destroyed a church, homes and a castle, and the mayor says the worst could still be yet to come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Homes can be replaced. People can't. The message today is be prepared, with the winds are changing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Back here live in San Diego, and the conditions are absolutely horrible, still a lot of wind. The good news in all of this people here in San Diego have heeded the evacuation warning. About 250,000 people have left their homes. One evacuation center that has opened is Qualcomm Stadium, Wolf. That's where the San Diego Chargers play their home football games. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much. Take a look also at these I-report pictures sent in to us by Andrew Hughes (ph). He took them in the wealthy San Diego suburb of Rancho Bernardo where the wildfire was closing in on these homes.

He says they had already been evacuated and moments after he took these pictures he himself was forced to leave so we don't know whether they are all still standing. Dramatic, dramatic stuff under way out in southern California. For round the clock coverage of the latest fires you can always click on to CNN.com. That's where you can become a CNN I-reporter as well. Send us your pictures and your video of the fires ravaging southern California right now.

Other news we're following tonight, a key American ally may be about to launch its own invasion of Iraq. Kurds in northern Iraq gathered to protest that possibility, but a notorious militant group may have already set things in motion with its latest bloody attack. We go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, worries continuing to mount that Turkey may be getting ready to invade northern Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Turkey's military is moving troops and vehicles closer to the Iraqi border, raising ominous signs it may be planning an invasion. This follows a weekend ambushed by PKK Kurdish rebels that killed a dozen Turkish troops. Turkey is sending mixed signals. Parliamentary approval for military action is in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

STARR: And the Turkish prime minister warned his country would not back away from an incursion if quote, "the necessary military conditions occurred", but diplomatic action continues. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met over the weekend with the Turkish defense minister, who seemed to indicate no invasion is imminent.

VECDI GONUL, TURKISH DEFENSE MINISTER: Not urgently. They are planning. They are planning, planning to cross the border, because firstly, the intelligence is important, to get enough information and we like to do these things with Americans.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I told him that restraint should not be confused with weakness.

STARR: Military officials tell CNN the U.S. is sharing with the Turks the latest intelligence about Kurdish rebel locations, making it possible for targeted raids against the PKK something far short of a full invasion, and the U.S. is also pressuring Iraqi Kurdish officials to crack down on the PKK on their side of the border.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: What we want to see is we want to see action from the Iraqi government to prevent terrorist attacks.

STARR: The U.S. is especially worried that any border war would stop the flow of not only U.S. military cargo, but also commercial goods that travel by road into northern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: For its part, the PKK says it's ready to declare a cease- fire, but Turkey is unlikely to move any of its 60,000 troops off the border any time soon. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

There are about 30 million Kurds stretching across eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran, Syria, and beyond. Many have long sought a homeland or autonomy. The Kurdistan Workers Party also known as the PKK has used violence toward this end, rooted in Marxism and labeled a terrorist group by the United States government, many governments in Europe, the PKK began targeting Turkey some two decades ago attacking troops, bombing civilians and kidnapping tourists. Turkey has launched massive crackdowns destroying countless villages. Once numbered in the tens of thousands the PKK is now said to have just about three to 5,000 men under arms. Jack Cafferty is watching this and a lot more from The Cafferty File. He's in New York. Turkey, a NATO ally, poised to invade Iraq right now, just what we need, right, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I mean this whole Iraq thing is going pretty well, don't you think?

BLITZER: Things may have been improving a little bit elsewhere but this is the last thing the U.S. government wanted to see happen right now, you know, Turkish invasion of northern Iraq especially the Turks are a NATO ally, but the Kurds in the north are pretty friendly to the United States, too. They've been the friendliest of all the Iraqis, but now to get the two friends of ours killing each other, that's not good.

CAFFERTY: Well and the Turks have been friendly to us, too, to the degree that they allow about 70 percent of all the materiel that we need to prosecute the war in Iraq to travel through their country. Forty percent of all the fuel used by American forces in the field travels through Turkey. Now what do you suppose is going to happen if they invade, the Kurds get in a shooting war with them? I mean there's no good ending for any of this stuff.

Here's some more great news. Thirty million, 30 million of the poorest Americans will be left in the cold this winter because a government program that's supposed to help pay their heating bills doesn't have enough money. This is compassionate conservatism, boys and girls. Reuters reports that the Low Income Home Energy Assistant Program only has enough money to cover 16 percent of the 38 million households that are eligible.

Its budget of about $2 billion is only $300 million more than when the program was created by the Congress 25 years ago. Yet despite higher energy costs, the Bush administration wants to cut the program's budget. No heat for the poor people. Starting to sound familiar, isn't it? Remember a couple of weeks ago President Bush went into a closed office, shut the door, no reporters vetoed a health bill to provide health insurance for kids.

No money for kids' health insurance, no money to help poor families pay their heating bills but President Bush wants $190 billion additional for 2008 for his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the president's new request means the cost of Iraq war is now approaching $650 billion. I wonder if the Democrats will give him the money.

They always do, don't they, despite promises to do something about the war before the midterm election. I got an e-mail from a viewer said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a sheep in sheep's clothing. So here's the question.

When it comes to American citizens you really have to wonder what President Bush's priorities are. Where do the citizens of this country fit into his game plan? Hundred and ninety billion for the wars, cut the heating bill budget, veto the kids' health insurance. The question is the Bush administration doesn't have enough money to help poor families pay for heat this winter, but they want $190 billion for the Iraq war. What's your reaction to that? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. That was a pretty funny line, the sheep in sheep's clothing.

BLITZER: Yes, we've got a lot of creative e-mailers out there, Jack. Thanks very much.

Rudy Giuliani, will his personal life overshadow his political track record?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Two people, six spouses, a little complicated if you're not religious especially when you're running against a Mormon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, he is blasting the city's former mayor and he's answering allegations that Democrats are simply in favor of raising taxes.

Plus, near collisions in the air. There's been more than the government's been telling all of us so why are they keeping it all- secret?

And selling America's image to the world. Disney makes a movie to make Americans seem friendlier for visitors from around the world.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight the price tag for America's wars is soaring higher. President Bush now set to ask Congress for another $46 billion to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The financial cost rising along with the death toll and the public anger about the war in Iraq. Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president just vetoed a $35 billion increase for children's health. He now wants a $46 billion increase for both wars. Democrats charging he has misplaced priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

HENRY (voice-over): Just moments before awarding a Medal of Honor posthumously to a Navy SEAL, who paid the ultimate price in Afghanistan, the president, yet again, raised the economic cost for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by another $46 billion to cover everything from bullets to body armor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Parts of this war are complicated, but one part is not, and that is America should do what it takes to support our troops and protect our people.

HENRY: To give you a sense of the enormity of it, $46 billion would fund the entire yearly budgets of the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Treasury. And this brings the total tab for Iraq and Afghanistan for this year alone to $200 billion.

BOB GREENSTEIN, CTR. FOR BUDGET & POLICY PRIORITIES: It would be one thing if it were $200 billion a year, but the end was in sight. But there really is no end in sight.

HENRY: Democrats are having a field day with the fact the Iraq war is now costing $330 million a day. That could pay for 1,700 more border patrol agents or provide health care to an extra 45,000 military veterans or the funds from just one day in Iraq would give 270,000 more kids coverage under the state children's health insurance program.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The entire war in Iraq has been paid for with borrowed money. We're borrowing money from China, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, to finance this war, Japan.

HENRY: Despite the soaring national debt, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the president will find the money for the nation's needs.

TONY FRATTO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Poor children getting their health care and the needs of our troops can both be accomplished. They're both priorities and we can handle both of those requests.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: CNN has learned that on Wednesday the Congressional Budget Office will reveal that its latest projections for the next 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan have now eclipsed $1 trillion. Add that to the $800 billion already spent in both wars, you're talking about real money. Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly are, Ed Henry reporting from the White House tonight.

There's disturbing new information tonight about some safety records in the skies. From time to time we hear reports of near collisions, but the number of these incidents may actually be a lot higher than the federal authorities have let on, until now. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us. Brian, how bad is the problem, and is the government keeping it all in secret?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf it's not clear now whether the government is hiding this information, simply not communicating with each other among the various agencies, but in any case a survey of pilots by NASA has found that safety problems are in some cases double what the government has been reporting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Pilots tell America's chief space agency there have been far more near collisions in the air and runway incursions than the government has ever recognized. In an exclusive interview, CNN asked the head of NASA about his agency's survey of 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots first reported by The Associated Press. Michael Griffin told us he had just heard about the survey.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: This is raw data. It hasn't been peer reviewed. It hasn't been crosschecked. You know, I don't know how good the data is.

TODD: Also alarming AP says more pilots than expected revealed so-called in-close approach changes, last-minute instructions to change landing plans that can be dangerous. AP says NASA's $8.5 million survey was shut down more than a year ago but that the public didn't hear about it. In a letter to the AP, NASA said it could scare passengers and be bad for airline business, but NASA's administrator now says...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My position is that from a public policy point of view first if it is legal to release the data, we will.

TODD: NASA's survey seems to cast doubt on reporting of near misses by the Federal Aviation Administration, among other agencies. FAA officials tell CNN, aside from briefings years ago they weren't looped in on NASA's interviews with pilots.

BOBBY STURGELL, ACTING FAA ADMINISTRATOR: I don't want to comment on their numbers since I have no idea what's in the survey or what's in the data, how it was collected, the methodology used or anything along those lines.

TODD: Former NTSB investigator Bob Francis says runway incursions are a problem but he says this of pilots' reports of mere collisions in midair.

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: The general aviation pilot with 200 hours may think that anything that comes anywhere near him is a near miss, whereas the commercial airline pilot wouldn't pay any attention to it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: NASA survey is in for SOME deeper scrutiny on Capitol Hill where congressmen want the agency to hand over documents and explain why the project was shut down before it was completed. NASA officials tell us they'll come clean -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Todd an important story he's watching.

Hillary Clinton prime time target for Republicans, will trashing the Democratic front-runner help any of the GOP hopefuls get elected?

And Cubans going to the polls in an election process that may ultimately determine if Fidel Castro will continue running the country. We're watching that story in Havana.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're watching these fires. They're ravaging southern California, all the way from Santa Barbara down south to the Mexican border, a quarter of a million people already have been told to evacuate. That number could go up. We're staying on top of the story, in a few moments we'll go there live and watch what's happening, but there are dramatic developments no end in sight, at least not yet.

Other news we're following right now in Cuba, it could be the beginning of the end of Fidel Castro's grip on power. Many Cubans have voiced their opinions in a vote that could have some far-reaching implications. CNN's Shasta Darlington has details from Havana -- Shasta.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, millions of Cubans voted in local elections on Sunday in what is the first stage of an electoral process that will ultimately determine whether Fidel Castro remains head of the communist government.

Castro has been running Cuba since 1959, but over a year ago he temporarily handed power to his younger brother Raul while he underwent emergency surgery. He hasn't been seen in public since although several videos and photos of the frail looking 81-year-old leader have appeared in state media. There were no pictures of Castro voting on Sunday, but on the eve of polling he defended Cuba's one- party system and high voter turnout in a newspaper column.

He slammed U.S. elections saying millions of corporate dollars and fraud determine who will be president there. State TV did show Raul Castro and other officials casting ballots. Candidates don't have to belong to the Communist Party, but it is the only organized party allowed in Cuba and critics say the members are usually the ones who win. The multistage process will lead to parliamentary elections next spring and those representative will then either re-elect Castro to head the counseled state or officially replace him with his brother.

In the end, many of the Cubans we talked to said they don't expect these elections to have any real impact on the problems they face every day like low salaries and really poor transportation. Wolf?

BLITZER: Shasta Darlington in Havana for us.

When we come back, families of the U.S. Navy and an NFL stadium right now in the line of fire. We're going to return to covering that huge inferno it's happening now in southern California. A quarter of a million people ordered to flee the fire zone, it is a huge area.

Also coming up, a new film that tries to put a welcoming face on the United States. Can the people at Disney do what the U.S. government apparently can't do?

And if you're ever attempted to heckle someone make sure it isn't the comedian Bill Maher. Was his outburst justified or politically incorrect?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to get some more on our breaking news, our top story, the raging wildfires that have turned much of southern California into an inferno. A quarter of a million people forced to flee, more than 100 homes already lost, that number is going to go up.

Let's go back to CNN's Dan Simon. He is on the front lines in San Diego. We see the smoldering -- we see the situation behind you. Update our viewers, Dan, on what we know.

SIMON: Well, Wolf, scenes like this are really happening throughout San Diego. We are told that you go from one neighborhood to the next you're just seeing widespread devastation. That's what we're being told by our guest here, Battalion Chief Bruce Cartelli. Give us a sense in terms of the kinds of things that you're seeing as you drive around.

BRUCE CARTELLI, BATTALION CHIEF, SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPT.: Well, utter devastation, hundreds of homes that have been lost. Many hundred more that have been damaged and it's probably the worst significant event in my career of 36 years that I've ever experienced into my fire service career.

SIMON: You told me just awhile ago that basically nothing has been contained at this point. The winds are still kicking up. Any idea when you might possibly get the upper hand on this blaze?

CARTELLI: Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, when the winds die, because that's what ended the cedar fire and it will not end here until it reaches the ocean, or the winds turn around on Tuesday at 3:00 in the afternoon.

SIMON: It seems apparent to me as I drive around San Diego that the folks who live here have really heeded the warnings and have evacuated. We're hearing that as many as 250,000 people have evacuated. That's a lot of people. Where are those folks going?

BRUCE CARTELLI, BATTALION CHIEF, SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPARTMENT: They're going to local high schools and YMCAs, any gymnasium that can be facilitated as a bunk room, where the Red Cross can go and do feeding, that's basically what's happening.

SIMON: What about resources? Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says that we're lacking resources. Obviously there are thousands of firefighters here on the ground, but even with that many, you still need more.

CARTELLI: You absolutely do. We only have 50 engine companies in the city of San Diego to combat a battle like this. When you're losing hundreds of homes at a time, everyone wants an engine in everyone's driveway and that doesn't happen.

SIMON: And we also understand that some animals at the famous San Diego Zoo have been evacuated or going to a safer place. What can you tell us about that?

CARTELLI: They do have sheltering at the wild animal park. This not the first time that we've had fires. The Juanita fire of 1994 did the same event. So they have shelter in place, facilities. They don't truck them off or anything but they do have safe areas for the animals to reside.

SIMON: All right. Thanks so much. That's Battalion Chief Bruce Cartelli. Wolf, you heard him say it. He's been with the fire department for more than three decades and this is about as bad as he's ever seen it. Obviously the situation is still unfolding here. The winds still kicking up and really unsure when the fire crews may get the upper hand on this blaze, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dan, thanks very much; Dan Simon reporting for us.

The flames are being fanned by some powerful winds, some gusts at hurricane strength.

In fact, let's go to our meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers.

Chad, any break in the winds that could help these firefighters? We heard the chief just say it might be Tuesday or Wednesday before the weather helps out.

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's exactly right. It will be Tuesday night, probably 8:00, 9:00, so a little bit after this time local time Tuesday night, then they will die off into Wednesday, but they will still be 10 miles per hour. It takes about 20, 25 to really start to kick up some of these embers but all of the fires you see here are hot spots that have been noted by the satellite. We just didn't put down a bunch of these flames. These are actually from the satellite itself.

And Lake Arrowhead, one of the hardest-hit areas. You've heard about San Diego. You've heard about Malibu but maybe you didn't hear about Lake Arrowhead. This area here, 115 homes lost already today. There is the lake. West of the lake, right around the country club, that's where it's been the hardest hit and in fact Wolf, it still goes right now, still going. The Santa Ana winds are blowing at 20 and 30 miles per hour. High pressure over Nevada. The wind blows offshore, down the hill, it gets hot and it's warm and it's dry and the relative humidity, about 5 percent.

Here are some of the wind gusts, 25, 30, 35, and the most ironic thing I've seen all day, Wolf. Look at this. It looks like it's raining. It looks like it's raining. You know what? The radar sites are confused. They see the smoke pellets, the smoke particles, and they think it's raining. Really what you're seeing is the smoke in the air is so thick it's as thick as if it was raining outside. Unbelievable.

Chad, I want to you look at this I-report, this video we got from Rick Walker, because you see the sky, and we're going to put it up. Take a look at the video. It looks orange. It's full of smoke, the heat. This is a dramatic picture we're looking at.

MYERS: And it's an unhealthy picture, too. Just all of these people here have to breathe this, and there's no real place to go. If you really have problems today and tonight, you need to move inland. You need to go to 29 Palm, somewhere finely inland, far enough east that the smoke is not going to get to you because the smoke is being blown offshore. It is not coming from the west. If you get west, maybe the salt and sea, absolutely clear air tonight. But anywhere here in L.A. all the way through San Bernardino, just a mess for air pollution tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Chad, thanks very much. It doesn't look like it's going to get better for awhile.

Let's go to the L.A. County Fire Department. The inspector Sam Padilla is joining us on the phone.

How bad is it from your perspective? I assume you've seen these kinds of fires in the past.

SAM PADILLA, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT INSPECTOR: This is the worst. This is as bad as it gets. We have three major fires within our jurisdictional area alone.

BLITZER: Any end in sight? We've just heard that the weather is not going to improve and help you at least until tomorrow, maybe even Wednesday.

PADILLA: No, there's no good news right now.

BLITZER: How many more homes are likely to be burnt as a result of this? Because these are moving into residential areas.

PADILLA: Yes, this is all urban interface areas with us and we're implementing structure protection in every possible way we can. We have stretched our resources beyond capacity. We have individuals like myself, I've been working since 5:00 yesterday morning with no break. These guys are on the front line and women doing everything they can to protect people's homes.

BLITZER: The unfortunate thing is you know we often hear about wildfires in southern California but what you're saying, inspector, is that you have never seen anything like this before. Is that right?

PADILLA: I've seen some big brush fires, as in '03 we had some big brush fires but this seems to be more intense, more acreage, the winds, these are definitely wind-driven fires. These are moving very fast and destroying everything in its path.

BLITZER: Some of the winds yesterday at least were going as high as 80 miles an hour. Have they calmed down a little bit today?

PADILLA: They've been clocked at 65.

BLITZER: 65. So you're getting near hurricane you know category winds out there, which clearly fan these flames. What about those who need help at nursing homes, hospitals, the elderly? Are you able to deal with that, who need to be evacuated?

PADILLA: We're doing everything humanly possible. With these winds, this would be a windstorm. With the fire, there's a firestorm.

BLITZER: What an awful situation. Sam Padilla from the L.A. County Fire Department, an inspector, thanks very much for that. And good luck to everyone out in California. We'll stay on top of the story here on CNN.

Also coming up, a navy S.E.A.L. earns the nation's highest award for valor and combat. We're going to have details of the heroic action that cost him his life. This is a rare occurrence. It happened today.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, Senator Hillary Clinton appears to be the talk of the Republican Party. Their presidential candidates are warning that the country will be in big trouble if she becomes president. One issue they claim they will she'll put in peril concerns your money.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary is always a good applause line and almost everything everybody says has been accurate. If we go down that road, we're going to go down the road of higher taxes.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's nothing funny about Hillary Clinton being president and let me tell you why. If she's president, taxes go up.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does the one democrats want? Raise taxes. It's the wrong way to go.

BLITZER: Joining us now, democratic congressman Charlie Rangel of New York. He's the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Congressman, what do you say to the republicans who are all harping on this theme that the democrats if they get back to power in the White House that the American people are going to be spending more on taxes?

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, presidents don't raise taxes. Constitutionally it's the Congress and it's more specifically it's the Ways and Means Committee. As a matter of fact, this week I will be unveiling a tax bill of simplification, tax fairness which will provide tax cuts for 93 million people instead of tax increase.

BLITZER: Who's going to be spending more on taxes? Which Americans are you targeting to raise their taxes?

RANGEL: Well, we're not talking about raising anyone's taxes. We're talking about closing some of the loopholes and unfairness in terms of a lot of preferences that shouldn't be in the tax code, so what's in the code we'll be able to close these gaps. For instance, we have certain people that are providing services, one group gets paid at 15 percent for capital gains, the other an ordinary income for 35 percent. We've got to bring a little fairness to the system.

BLITZER: What income bracket would you expect taxes go up, people making $200,000 a year, $100,000 a year? At what level would they be paying more in taxes?

RANGEL: I would take a guess that if you're making $500,000 a year that you would be expanded. But I'm saying that all of the people before then, one way or the other would be enjoying a tax cut. By closing the loopholes that shouldn't exist, people could say that's a tax increase.

I was talking with Secretary Paulson. He convinced me to reduce the corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent. You would say well how do you pay for it? Well, he is saying that at the higher rate, so many corporations are not paying any income taxes because they get preferential tax treatment. If you eliminate that, you're raising the money to provide fairness and equity for everybody.

BLITZER: There were some tough comments attributed to you in the new issue of "The New York Observer" on Rudy Giuliani. I assume you saw the article. "It's totally unbelievable," you're quoted as saying. "I refuse to believe this could possibly happen to our country. I have too much confidence in our country to believe that this could really happen," and you're referring to the possibility, what, that he would be the republican presidential nominee?

RANGEL: It's really sad because it cuts down the ability of the Democratic Party to effectively compete on the issues. I mean to be dealing with a post-9/11 mayor, with no foreign policy experiences, that has flip-flopped on gun control, on immigration, on so many -- on birth control, to say that God hasn't finished with him, as he moves in, and with the record that he's had of lack of sensitivity, as the pre-9/11 candidate, I just can't conceive that he would be involved as one of the possible people that could be president of this great country, and I know sooner or later it's going to be exposed for this character or other people that he was involved with before he became a national figure, and I give him credit for what he's done since 9/11.

BLITZER: But you also lashed out at his personal life, some of the experiences he's had, his multiple marriages among other things.

RANGEL: Well, you know, two people, six spouses, it's a little complicated if you're not religious, especially when you're running against a Mormon, but I'm just saying that America has to look at all of these things, and that there are enough moles on this man that embarrasses those of us who have sought public life.

When we get involved in public life, it means we're in a goldfish bowl and it would seem to me with all of the breaks that the mayor's had and being involved with his personal problems that he would thank God he's got as far as where he did go without making the politicians get involved in his personal life.

BLITZER: But if his personal life becomes an issue, that opens the door for Hillary Clinton, your candidate, her personal life which we all know about that, that becomes an issue as well.

RANGEL: You know you can say it over and over and over again. This woman got married, stayed married to the same husband. When they had problems, she stuck with him. You tell me what her personal life is something that she should be ashamed of and I want to talk about it.

But I tell you one thing, that whether you like it enough, personal lives, once you throw your hat in the ring, then you're vulnerable to anything and I can't, for the life of me, see how you could compare anything that has been suggested that Hillary Clinton has done as she's been exposed to the public scrutiny, and compare it with something like Rudolph Giuliani, no comparisons but I agree with you, once you're in, you're all in. So if she's got something that you know and I don't know, tell me now.

BLITZER: I don't know anything, congressman. Thanks very much, Charlie Rangel.

RANGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And a spokeswoman for Rudy Giuliani's campaign issued this statement and let me quote it specifically. "This kind of ugly personal attack isn't even worth a response" that statement from Giuliani's campaign, referring to what Charlie Rangel just said.

This note, on November 15th I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, to moderate a debate in that key western state among the democratic presidential candidates, November 15th in Vegas.

Heroism that cost him his life. Now relatives of a navy S.E.A.L. accept a rare honor for his service to our country from President Bush himself.

And how to handle hecklers. The comedian Bill Maher has a different approach. We're going to show you what it is right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at these live pictures of Lake Arrowhead, California, where at least 128 homes have already been destroyed by wildfires. More than a quarter million people have been evacuated from the San Diego alone. Stay with CNN throughout the night for all the very latest. I'm going to show you how close these homes are. Take a look at these homes right down here. You see the fires right there, the firefighters clearly worried that those flames are moving ominously close to more, more residential areas. We'll stay on top of the story here on CNN.

President Bush today presented the nation's highest combat award, the Medal of Honor, to the family of a Navy S.E.A.L., Lieutenant Michael Murray, two years after he was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan. The president said the medal is acknowledgment for a debt that can never be repaid.

Once again, our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, three Navy S.E.A.L.s killed on that mountain as well as 16 other commandos who tried to rescue them. Their helicopter was shot down. It became the worst day ever for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

June 2005, in the 10,000 foot mountain peaks of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush, Lieutenant Michael Murray led his four-man Navy S.E.A.L. team on a mission they knew could turn deadly.

DAN MURPHY, MICHAEL MURPHY'S FATHER: He was incredible person. Honest, kind, caring, probably the antithesis of what you would consider a warrior.

MAUREEN MURPHY, MICHAEL MURPHY'S MOTHER: He was like very protective of other people and he always stuck up for the underdog.

STARR: Dan and Maureen Murray and Michael's brother, John, now more than two years later receiving Michael's Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor and combat. 29-year-old Michael and two teammates would be killed.

MARCUS LUTTRELL, PETTY OFFICER 2ND CLASS, U.S. NAVY: He was my best friend. You know he was a good man. I mean everybody loved him.

Petty officer Marcus Luttrell was the only man on the team to make it out. The S.E.A.L.s were searching for a wanted terrorist, but they were spotted. A massive firefight broke out. It was four S.E.A.L.s against more than 40 insurgents. Michael kept the men together.

LUTTRELL: He was in a horrible position. He left himself open so he could move back and forth to each individual guy. We were hurting bad. We were out of ammo.

STARR: All four men were shot. Then Michael walked into the open to try to radio for help exposing himself to enemy fire.

LUTTRELL: When I looked back up at Mikey and he took two rounds to the back and sat back up, hung up the phone and finished the transmission, hung up the phone and then he flanked left again and that was the last time I saw him.

STARR: Michael Murphy's parents say they always supported their son's desire to join the U.S. military, but Dan had his worries about his son. Dan was badly wounded on a mountain in Vietnam when he served in 1970.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you what, a hero, Barbara Starr reporting.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

You know those stories of those heroes, this guy, Murphy in Afghanistan, you know, it's painful to have to hear that but these are the guys who are doing the work out there, the heavy lifting.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and you just wonder what it's all for, don't you, sometimes, what exactly we're accomplishing over there, as these young people like that young man, their lives get cut short in the pursuit of what I'm not exactly sure.

The question this hour, the Bush administration says it doesn't have enough money to fund a federal program that is supposed to help poor families pay for heat this winter, but they want $190 billion for the war in Iraq, and we asked what your reaction to that was. And we got an earful.

Robert writes from Florida "It's not the same country I grew up in. We believed you took care of Americans, war or no war. If we had to fight, we bought war bonds to help pay for it. Taxes were raised on those who could afford to pay more. This president doesn't care about regular Americans and cares too much about a war of choice, his choice. I'm not quite as proud to be an American as I used to be."

Donna writes, "Typical Bush arrogance, truly shows what a fine upstanding Christian he is. I'd write more but my cold arthritic fingers won't let me."

John in Virginia, "I'm not sure what you're railing about. If the poor people want heat, let them join up and go to Iraq."

Bob in California, "It's been clear since the Bush administration kidnapped the White House in 2000 they don't give a damn about ordinary Americans. Let the Katrina victims drop dead, let the 47 million uninsured Americans drop dead, let the poor in unheated homes drop dead, let the children whose government health coverage is being terminated drop dead. What's it matter to them?"

C.J., Jacksonville, Florida, "My only comment is we Americans are stupid and Lincoln was wrong when he said you can't fool all the people all the time. Bush has pulled it off pretty well."

Finally, Sandy in Michigan writes, "Jack, and you say it's getting ugly out there. Looks to me like it's already ugly out there. Maybe you can write a sequel to your book. Call it "How Much Uglier Can It Get?"

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/Caffertyfile. We post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File.

Wolf.

BLITZER: They're angry out there. There's no doubt about that, Jack. Thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.

Let's check in with Rick Sanchez to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'll tell you Wolf, it's amazing. We're monitoring pictures coming out of Lake Arrowhead out in California. People's homes are burning to the ground as we speak out there. We've got crews on the ground. We're going to be talking to some residents. We're talking to the mayor of Malibu. 128 houses, by the way, have already burned and we're told that there are still pictures coming in that we're going to be sharing with our viewers.

And then also, you know Jack was just talking about it, what the president said about Iraq and also what the vice president said about Iran and then we did a little research and found out just how similar it is to what he said about Iraq. We'll put the two side by side and let the viewers decide.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Rick, thank you. We'll see you in a few moments.

On our political ticker this Monday, a martial arts star trying to put kick into a republican's lagging presidential campaign. Chuck Norris, the cult hero of "Walker Texas Ranger," today announced his White House choice. Norris says he's backing former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, saying he believes he's the only candidate with all of the characteristics to lead America into the future.

And move over John Edwards, people suddenly are talking about Mitt Romney's hair. The republicans showed up at the latest debate having a bad hair day. We're told there was an audible gasp from the reporters at site of the usually impeccable Romney looking a little bit mussed up. Someone in the Romney camp must have caught on because a few minutes later the former Massachusetts's governor's hair certainly back in place.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Heckle at your own risk, at least when it comes to "Real Times of Bill Maher." We're going to show you how he challenges the challenger.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here is a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in now.

In Washington, police look on as a demonstrator dressed as President Bush protest the Iraq war and climate change.

In Hungary, riot police watch as a Molotov cocktail explodes on a water canon.

In California, a super scooper picks up water from a lake.

And in Denver, a woman prays for help as she tries to buy World Series tickets, tries.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots.

Hecklers might want to think twice before they take on HBO's Bill Maher.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a look at this most unusual story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was almost as if they heckled Dr. Jekyll and he turned into Mr. Hyde.

BILL MAHER, TV SHOW HOST: Hey, do we have some [bleep] security in this building? Or do I have to come over and kick this guy's [bleep] out of here? Would you get the [bleep] out of my building? Hey, hey, hey, out, out, out!

MOOS: Sure some public speakers preferred trying to calm hecklers with kindness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't mind listening. You can talk.

MOOS: Yes. Well Bill Maher minded when a second heckler piped up.

MAHER: I'll kick your [bleep] out of here, too. This isn't the Iowa caucus. You're in the audience. Audience comes from the Latin, to listen.

MOOS: How do you say this in Latin?

MAHER: Yes, and you are a nut case, building seven.

MOOS: The hecklers believed the way world trade center building seven collapsed on 9/11 suggests it was rigged to implode, that the U.S. government is hiding the truth. They mocked Bill Maher for mocking them, circulating a parity of one of his show segments called "New Rules."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New rules, two airplanes can't slam into two buildings and knock down three. What about building seven? MAHER: Ass kicking is what's called for.

MOOS: Hey, Bill could have been worse. He could have tasered them. Remember the guy who wouldn't stop questioning John Kerry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tase me, bro. Don't tase me, I said don't tase me!

MOOS: "Don't tase me bro" went on to become a catch phrase with remixes on the web. Emblazoned on t-shirts "Don't tase me bro" was even reduced to shorthand, DTMB, on doggie wear, on thongs.

So far we haven't seen Bill's rant plastered anywhere except on You Tube. Bill Maher's anti-heckling technique reminds us another pro of the putdown. But at least we didn't have to bleep Ronald Reagan. Talk about the great communicator.

FORMER PRES. RONALD REAGAN: Oh, shut up.

MOOS: As for Bill Maher's hecklers claiming 9/11 was an inside job ...

MAHER: I don't think President Bush brought down the world trade center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boo! Boo!

MAHER: And cows disagree with me.

MOOS: Bill put them out to pasture.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

BLITZER: Thank you Jeanne.

Mark your calendar. Starting November 5th, just one year from Election Day 2008, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back- to-back from 4:00 p.m. eastern to 7:00 p.m. eastern. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT will air at 7:00 p.m. eastern. All that starts in a couple of weeks, November 5th.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Up next, Rick Sanchez with OUT IN THE OPEN.

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