Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Irma Forecast; Puerto Rico under State of Emergency; Hurricane Irma's Force; Trump Bucks GOP. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 6, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar.

And we begin with Hurricane Irma, a massive storm roaring through the Caribbean right now. The current forecast puts it on a collision course with Florida.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a new and seems to be record-breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places. We'll see what happens. We'll know in a very short period of time, but it looks like it could be something that will be not good.


KEILAR: You are looking at images from space of one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history. It's ripping through the Caribbean and right now it's bringing staggering wind gusts of up to 185 miles per hour.

This is what Irma looked and also sounded like as it tore like a freight train through St. Martin and this is what is barreling right now toward the U.S. mainland. And while it's still too early to tell how this is going to impact the U.S., both Florida and Puerto Rico have declared a state of emergency.

This storm may be a few days away from landfall here in the U.S., but the alarm bells are already ringing as we watch mass evacuations with tens of millions of people now in the path of what is a monster storm.

Here's Florida Governor Rick Scott issuing an ominous warning just a short time ago.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Storm surge and extreme winds are the biggest concern right now. The storm is bigger, faster, and stronger than Hurricane Andrew. We are being very aggressive in our preparation for this storm and every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect their family. If you're told to evacuate, get out quickly.


KEILAR: We have our reporters fanned out across the affected region in Cuba, Miami, as well as in Puerto Rico.

And I want to go now to meteorologist Allison Chinchar, who is tracking Irma from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

So, Allison, talk us through this storm and the path that it's on.


So the latest update just came out at the top of the hour and this is what we know. Right now, winds still 185 miles per hour. It's moving west northwest at 16 miles per hour. Really getting awfully close at this hour to Puerto Rico.

The track again over the next couple of days takes it across the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, and around areas of the Bahamas, as well as Cuba.

Then we know the storm is going to make a right-hand turn. The question is where. Where does it make that right-hand turn because that will ultimately depend on exactly what type of impacts we have for the U.S.

Most of the models are very consistent in that short-term, right up until that right-hand turn. But then you'll notice we start to see some of that change. Some of the models make it -- make that right- hand turn over the Bahamas, meaning that it could end up being a landfall, say, anywhere from Georgia up to say around Wilmington, North Carolina. But other models don't have it making that turn so quickly and ends up making landfall over portions of Florida. So this is where that discrepancy lies with some of those models and where the landfall ultimately ends up being.

What we do know is that right now it is an incredibly powerful category five storm, making its way across the Virgin Islands toward Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has already been experiencing incredibly heavy rain from some of those outer bands, which is why we have hurricane warnings up for Puerto Rico, portions of Dominican Republic, as well as the Turks and Caicos. And then other areas looking at tropical storm warnings or hurricane watches, hoping to give people enough of a heads up so that they can get their preparations underway.

We've talked about strong winds being a huge concern with this storm, but storm surge is also going to be a big factor. Where the storm is located right now, we've been looking at storm surge around seven to 11 feet. Over the northern portion of Puerto Rico, we're talking four to six feet. But notice how much it jumps when you start getting into the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. That has to do with their location in relative terms to the storm.

For example, the storm is expected to cut in between, making the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas in what we call the north right quadrant, which can most often take -- give them even more strong storm surge and stronger winds than some of the other areas around the storm.

Here's a look at the tropical storm force winds. Again, this is a massive storm, not just in terms of strength, but also size. So that means the amount of space that could encounter winds at tropical storm strength or even higher, Brianna, is going to be pretty wide.

But the one thing I want people to take away from this, regardless of whether this makes landfall over Florida or a different state say like North Carolina, folks need to get their preparations underway. It is always better to be prepared and then find out the storm doesn't hit you than to have it the other way around.

KEILAR: You know, it certainly is. And we know that you are going to keep looking at this for us, Allison Chinchar, as this is making its way over the Virgin Islands there, as you said, a category five is what Irma is right now.

[14:05:01] Allison, thank you.

Puerto Rico right now is under a state of emergency. Many fear that if the power goes, it's not going to be restored for weeks, maybe months. CNN's George Howell is there in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for us.

So, George, tell us what you're seeing. We obviously see wind. We hear the rain. What is the vantage point from where you are?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, yes, so here along the north shore of this island, which is the part of the island that will be impacted most, the north and the eastern parts of it, we are starting to see these conditions deteriorate and it's expected to get worse through the hour.

Let's talk about the different phases that we're expecting. So, look, the strong winds, of course, the rain, flooding, and then aftermath. As far as winds go, I just spoke with a meteorologist here at the National Weather Center, Felix Castro. He says that the island has already experienced an 86-mile-per-hour wind gust. Keeping in mind that the eye wall of the storm will now be closer to Puerto Rico. So 30 miles off the north shore, he says. So it will be much more intense given that the storm is closer. Keeping in mind, this is a category five storm, unlike anything that has been recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. The strongest storm for sure this island has seen.

When it comes to the rain -- and you just heard Allison mention this, the strong bands, they come and go. The winds come and go. But we are expecting another several of these strong bands to hit us. They just come in, one after the other, and that condition will continue hour by hour. 8:00 p.m. when things get worse.

And that brings us to flooding. So they expect a storm surge of anywhere from two to three feet. However, they're also concerned about storm swell or the ocean swells. So that could be anywhere from 25 to 30 feet of water. It's like two to three stories of water that could come in at any point here along this island. So conditions could get really bad, especially in those low-lying areas.

And, finally, the aftermath. You talked about the power grid here. It is vulnerable. Locals even say, you know, it's not very reliable in storms like this. The island is accustomed to strong storms, but when the big storms come through, power tends to go out. They expect that to happen here. And rebuilding is a big concern as well. This island has received federal assistance with regard to recovery. But keep in mind the backdrop of this. This is an island that is heavily burdened with debt, $70 billion in debt. So there is a concern among locals, among officials about what rebuilding will look like here in Puerto Rico, Brianna.

KEILAR: Big concern. Realistic concern there. George Howell in San Juan. Thank you, sir.

You heard George talking about how unusual this is. Irma is only the fourth storm in the recorded history of Atlantic hurricanes to grow this strong. And weather experts are stunned by what they're seeing.

One of those experts joining me right now. We have Seth Borenstein with us. He's a science writer for "The Associated Press."

I want to show something to our viewers, Seth, that you tweeted out. This is what you said. You said, I've been covering hurricanes and storm science for more than 25 years and I have never seen anything like Irma. What is it about Irma that is so unbelievable to you almost?

SETH BORENSTEIN, SCIENCE WRITER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": The strength, 185-mile-an-hour sustained, not gusts, sustained winds, 185 miles an hour. So when Andrew hit south Florida, and I was there for Andrew, that was 145-mile-an-hour winds.

KEILAR: Sustained, 145 sustained.

BORENSTEIN: This is -- sustained. This is 40 miles an hour more. There has never been anything this powerful in the open Atlantic. In the Gulf and the Caribbean, there have been only a few other storms like this, and only one storm stronger, and that was Alan in 1980, and it didn't hit with its 190-mile-an-hour winds. So this is incredibly strong.

It is get large and getting larger. It -- you know, so you're looking at wind as a hazard and you're looking at storm surge as a big hazard, and then rain too.

KEILAR: When you're talking about something going from -- between 145 and 185, that increase, is it exponential? Is each mile per hour equal to the last mile per hour?

BORENSTEIN: Well, a lot of it depends on where you are in trying to survive.


BORENSTEIN: And that depends on construction. I mean, if you're built to withstand 150-mile-an-hour winds, at 145, you're OK. At 180, you're not. So, a lot -- like I say, it depends on how strong you are built and very few places build for something like this, because this used to be one of those storms that you'd only fear about and now it's not. KEILAR: Seth, when you're looking at the range of possibilities here,

we're still charting the path. So, you know, we still have this cone of uncertainty in a way --


KEILAR: But we do know this is coming upon Puerto Rico at this point in time. When you say you're looking at Florida, what is the range of possibility and severity and maybe best case scenario and worst case scenario?

[14:10:08] BORENSTEIN: Well, luckily, perhaps the best case scenario is the one that's the current forecast for the hurricane center, where you're talking just along the edge of the Florida coast --

KEILAR: The right side.

BORENSTEIN: Because the strongest winds, the strongest storm surge, everything stronger in that northeast quadrant. So that keeps that northeast quadrant out to sea. So that -- if it follows that track, that's good for one thing, but it's bad for another because it brings you up the entire south Florida area, where you've got lots of people and builds, up Cape Canaveral, up Jacksonville, which hasn't experienced anything, and then into the Carolina -- Georgia and the Carolinas. So you are keeping the worst damage out to the sea, but you're hitting an awful lot of developed places and big places.

KEILAR: A big swath.

BORENSTEIN: The -- one of the other scenarios that was favored a day or so ago in some of the models reporting had it -- Irma going straight down the middle of Florida with its -- just to the west of Miami, which meant its northeast killer quadrant would be in Miami. That was far worse.


BORENSTEIN: And then it would also be going over Lake Okeechobee, which has all this water and they're draining quickly. So that's also a bad scenario. It is sort of pick your poisons.

And the other scenario would be to go over Florida's west coast and into the panhandle. That's looking less and less likely. One problem with that is Tampa has almost no experience with a major hurricane. These are people, you know, who haven't had one in a long time. Those people aren't alive (ph).

KEILAR: A really bad one in a long time, yes.

BORENSTEIN: So there are three bad scenarios. This is, you know, this one keeps the worst winds away, but it does hit a lot more people and buildings.

KEILAR: And that's why we're taking this so seriously.

Seth Borenstein, thank you so much for lending your expertise. BORENSTEIN: Sure.

KEILAR: We do appreciate it. A science writer with the AP, 25-plus years of experience.

And we're back to storm coverage in just a moment.

We must now go now to some other major breaking news coming to us from the White House though.

President Trump is going against his own party leaders, he's siding with the Democrats over the debt ceiling. He just told reporters on Air Force One that he, quote, essentially reached an agreement with congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling, provide disaster relief funding, and pass a short-term spending bill. It's a deal that would include a three-month extension of the debt ceiling. That is the very thing that House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke out against this morning.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We've got all this devastation in Texas. We've got another unprecedented hurricane hitting -- about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur and that they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that's ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment.


KEILAR: Joining me now is CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins. And we also have CNN political director David Chalian.

So, Kaitlan, give us the detail of this deal that the president has struck on the debt ceiling.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, it's pretty remarkable (INAUDIBLE) the president --

KEILAR: OK, you know what, unfortunately, we're having some audio and visual hits there with Kaitlan, so we're going to try to reestablish that.

I'm going to bring in David Chalian to talk about this.

OK, so this deal -- tell us a little bit about this deal and why it's so surprising that this is -- this is what the president now has conceived of.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: Well, it's not surprising because it seems that President Trump cut a deal with the Democrats and undermined the Republican leaders on this. You just heard in that sound bite you just played, Brianna, Paul Ryan called this notion of a three-month extension ridiculous. That's what the speaker of the House, the leader of the Republicans in the House, called it. Donald Trump emerged from the meeting saying, we've got a deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi it seems. So what -- that is one part that's surprising is that Donald Trump seems to be sort of undercutting a bit his own party and working with the Democratic leaders on this, sort of taking their pitch and making a deal.

The second thing I would say that is surprising is, this now gives leverage to the Democrats down the road in December. So if you just put in a three-month extension on raising the debt ceiling, that just means you're kicking the can down the road for a fight to come in December. And at that point, when the debt ceiling needs to be raised again and you need those Democratic votes again, did they just get leverage on, let's say, trying to solve the DACA issue cleanly, you know? Now the Democrats are in a bit of the driver's seat as the minority party.

KEILAR: What does he do -- what is the president doing, though, by undermining Republicans in Congress and what does that mean for the future of his relationship with Republicans, who he did go into the recess very frustrated with, of course.

[14:15:00] CHALIAN: We've known all along, watching Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the first eight month of his presidency, he's not of the Republican Party as we all have covered it, right? That's not where he is. He is so much more interested in deal making than ideology. And so now I think we're seeing that come to bear. I think he tried to play the sort of Washington establishment party game a little bit in -- and that didn't work out for him on health care and other matters and now I think he really wants to just get some stuff done and I don't think, with Harvey aid needed and Irma coming, that he was looking in any way to have a hiccup in this particular moment when he wanted to make sure to get that, you know, devastation aid out to the communities.

KEILAR: In this meeting that the president had with congressional leaders, his daughter, and obviously one of his closest aides, Ivanka Trump, was there. But it seems that her presence perturbed some of the Republicans, is that right?

CHALIAN: Yes, I've seen some reporting on that. I have not heard the inside details of what actually went on inside the meeting or what about her presence was particularly irksome, if indeed it was, to the Republicans. Perhaps we'll learn more when we hear from them later in the day. But this is not the first time --

KEILAR: It's not the first time.

CHALIAN: That questions have come about, about sort of what specifically is Ivanka Trump's role in meetings like this.

KEILAR: OK. All right, David Chalian, thank you so much.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

And just ahead, I'm going to speak live with a storm chaser who's about to fly right into the center of Hurricane Irma. Plus, President Trump confusing really everyone but suggesting that he'll revisit his controversial decision to end the dreamer program if Congress doesn't save it to protect young people who are undocumented in the U.S. brought to the country by their parents. Is he pouring cold water on his own threat? I'll speak live with a pastor on his advisory board who has a message for him.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), ASSISTANT MAJORITY LEADER: Comes to border security and enforcement of the law. We're the most generous country in the world when it comes to immigration, legal immigration, but we need to restore the rule of law and we need to start at the border with securing the border. And we've got a plan for the president to consider to do just that.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, the -- in the months ahead, Republicans will demonstrate that we can walk and chew gum, because there are a lot of things, as was pointed out by the leader and the whip that we have to deal with here in the Senate, including relief for Harvey, as well as a debt ceiling increase, funding the government, passing defense authorization, a whole range of issues we have to deal with.

[14:20:03] But we're also going to be very focused in the weeks and months ahead on an issue that I think is critically important to our economy, and that's tax reform. The American people need tax relief. The American people need to be able to keep more of what they earn. And as we move into this debate about tax reform, we're going to have our eyes focused on workers in this country, middle income families, who will benefit from the tax relief that will come as a result of our tax reform efforts.

We think it's about jobs. We think it's about growth. We think it's about higher wages. We think it's about relief for middle income taxpayers. We think it's about bringing simplicity into the tax code, keeping jobs here in this country and making our businesses more competitive in the global marketplace. That's really what tax reform is all about. And so --

KEILAR: All right, we are ducking out of this press conference there on Capitol Hill where Senate Republicans are talking about tax reform.

Of course, they've just been undercut by the president when it comes to the issue of the debt limit increase. We were hoping to hear something about that.

Despite the intense backlash against President Trump's decision to rescind DACA, the president says he's having no second thoughts and is not sending mixed signals about the policy that protects immigrant children who grew up in this country. Undocumented immigrant children, but who know no other country other than the U.S.

Just to rewind the last 24 hours here, the president sent this tweet telling Congress to do their job. Then he had his attorney general face cameras to rescind DACA, calling it unconstitutional. Then later in the day the president said he loved dreamers. And then last night he said that he would revisit the issue if Congress fails to legalize DACA.

So if your head is spinning after all of that, well, we can't blame you, but imagine what it would be like to be one of the nearly 800,000 people that DACA had previously protected.

My next guest is a member of the president's evangelical advisory board. Pastor Jentezen Franklin. He was among the faith leaders who met with Donald Trump last week in the Oval Office as he declared a National Day of Prayer for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Pastor Franklin, thank you so much for joining us now.

You talked to the president when you were at the White House about DACA. You encouraged him to have compassion for the young people that it protects. So how are you feeling about this announcement?

PASTOR JENTEZEN FRANKLIN, PLEASED WITH TRUMP TO SHOW HEART TO DREAMERS: Well, I'm very optimistic. I'm actually excited that when I talked with the president and those that were with me, we were not sure at all what he would do. And when he gave the six-month extension, we were thrilled because now he's saying -- I don't think he would have given that extension if he was not interested in signing legislation from the Congress if they'll just do their job and deal with this problem and give a pathway to citizenship for these kids.

KEILAR: But Congress, pastor, has made it clear that they don't intend to deal with this in the short-term. So -- but you say you're optimistic about the six months. I mean Congress has basically poured cold water on that.

FRANKLIN: Well, I don't --

KEILAR: What are your -- what are your concerns about there not being DACA protections for young people?

FRANKLIN: Well, my concerns are that these are kids that have been in the United States pretty much all their life. I have them in my church. I'm sure most pastors, if you have a multicultural church, you understand this is a very serious situation. I've watched these children. I know these children. I've pastored these children. And they're dear and we -- dear to me. I love them and care about them and I care about these families. And that's what we expressed to the president, that, you know, we -- there's got to be a way that we can have a compassionate heart for these children.

And I feel like the president has absolutely given that opportunity to the Congress. I don't see this as a negative thing. Like, I mean, he could have just let it expire. We need to look on the bright side here for a minute and give the president a little bit of credit, that he did extend it for six months. Now he's saying, hey, Congress, Democrats, Republicans, bring me legislation.

And I disagree. I don't think that the Congress is just going to ignore that. I think they're about to come under tremendous pressure from the Hispanic community, from minority communities, and from people just like me, pastors and ordinary people, who want to see these kids get a pathway to citizenship.

KEILAR: Well, you say you're optimistic. Your parishioners who are protected by DACA, are they optimistic by this announcement?

FRANKLIN: I don't know that. I think they should be excited that -- about the fact that --

KEILAR: Well, have you spoken to them?

FRANKLIN: Well, I haven't yet. I will this Sunday. But let me just say this. What they had was a temporary -- you understand DACA was a temporary solution. We have the potential now because of what the president is trying to do to have a permanent solution where these kids can be here permanently and live their life in a productive way in our nation. That's what we all want, I think most Democrats want that, Republicans want that, the president wants that and we want that.

[14:25:12] KEILAR: Is there any -- so you're actually optimistic about this, why, because you feel like it's forcing Congress' hand?

FRANKLIN: I do. I do. I mean -- I mean look at -- if -- why didn't President Obama, when he had the Democratic House and Senate, why didn't he do it if it could be done? But I believe it's a different environment right now.

KEILAR: Well, but it couldn't -- but it couldn't be done.

FRANKLIN: I believe it is a different environment. I believe the whole mood of the nation has turned toward these kids. The heart of this nation has turned toward these kids. And I believe the president's heart has turned toward these kids. And he's saying, give me something to work with, and we'll make this happen.

KEILAR: So what if Congress doesn't act?

FRANKLIN: Well, if they don't, then I'm encouraged even by the tweet today that President Trump said we'll revisit it if we have to. To me, that's a positive thing. I don't get why people feel that this is -- finally we're moving from a temporary place for these kids, their lives are very uncertain to a permanent status.

KEILAR: Well, but so let me ask -- let me ask you about this. I've got the talking points that the White House sent to Capitol Hill, OK? And this is from the White House. And they say, the Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States. That's telling people to prepare to have to leave the United States. You can understand why some people would not be as optimistic about you -- as you are when this is the guidance, right, that DHS is giving DACA recipients.

FRANKLIN: Well, I mean, that was in -- that was the case before any of this ever happened. We're in a situation now where I see great potential for the Congress to step up and do something.

KEILAR: No, but, sir, it wasn't. Before President Obama guaranteed -- or, you know, certainly warranted the criticism over how he went about this, but once he did put this in place, and it has been put in place, that wasn't the concern.

FRANKLIN: Well, I can tell you now that I believe, and my viewpoint on it and what I've -- myself and the other ministers that were there, black pastors, Hispanic pastors, and those several of us who pastor multicultural churches, we were -- we were basically saying to the president, we're in the trenches, we're hearing and we know -- I know these kids. They've been in my home. I know these kids. They've been in my children's ministry, my youth ministry. I love these kids. These are great kids.

And I -- and we pleaded passionately with the president that we have got to find a pathway. And I am convinced that if the Congress will do this according to the Constitution, the president, again, doesn't have the ability to just sign a paper and make these kids legal. We've got to go through the laws of the land. And if our Congress will do what they need to do, and I believe they're under pressure now, and they'll do it. I believe the president will sign it. And, hey, we've found middle ground. That would be nice (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: But you're confident -- you're confident that the dreamers -- you're confident that the dreamers who are in your church will not -- that none of them will face deportation?

FRANKLIN: I am. I am. I'm very optimistic. I can't guarantee that. But that is what I'm praying for. That is what I'm pleading for. That's what I believe the majority of America is believing for. And I think the president will understand that and react positively to it.

KEILAR: But you can't -- you can't guarantee it, but you're hopeful?

FRANKLIN: I'm very hopeful. I'm very hopeful. And the feedback --

KEILAR: But why -- why can't --

FRANKLIN: I will say this, the feedback --

KEILAR: What are your -- if you say you can't guarantee it, what's the concern that makes you say you can't guarantee it?

FRANKLIN: Because I'm not president and I'm not Donald Trump, therefore, you know, there's no guarantee to it. But I do believe this. I believe that -- I believe that there is, right now, an atmosphere in this country unlike I've ever seen concerning these dreamer children that we have found middle ground, that whether you're a Democrat, as far left as you can go, or a Republican --

KEILAR: Sure. Sure. And you -- and certainly we heard you say that. But if your dreamers, if any of them are deported, would that give you reason to consider stepping off this council?

FRANKLIN: I don't know if I would consider stepping off, but I would -- that's why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said presence is everything when he was asked why are you going to the White House. He said presence is everything.

See, if I had -- if I were not on that board, I wouldn't have been able to look across the table there, the desk in the Oval Office, and have this very conversation like I'm having with you.

KEILAR: But what good is being on the board if, as you put it, it's possible -- what good is being on the board if some of your parishioners are deported?

[14:30:00] FRANKLIN: Because presence is everything. If you're not at the table, you can't argue the points. Now, if he -- if he chooses not to listen, he chooses not to listen. But, you know, you don't resign from a board, at least I don't --