Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Irma's Wrath; President Trump Strikes Deal with Democrats. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A storm so powerful it has flattened an island, smashed the instruments trying to measure it, left meteorologists out of adjectives to describe it. Irma barreling toward south Florida where the Miami mayor has called it a nuclear hurricane.

A new update from the National Hurricane Center just moments away.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And the deal-making president finally strikes a deal, albeit with Democrat leaders. Now Trump's own party is shell-shocked, forced to accept Democratic terms to raise the debt ceiling. He did promise he makes great deals.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And Democrats are -- Republicans saying, what's the deal?

BRIGGS: Yes, Democrats agree.

ROMANS: What's the deal?

I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, September 7th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with this monster hurricane, Irma, taking aim at Florida after it left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean. Right now, Irma remains a very strong category five hurricane. This is a rare, rare storm here. It's packing a 180-mile-an-hour winds as it moves along the northern end of the Dominican Republic.

Before it reaches the U.S. mainland, territories and islands out in the Atlantic have been battered.

[05:00:01] The death toll rising overnight, nine people now killed in the storm. That number expected to climb.

BRIGGS: Puerto Rico may have avoided a direct hit, but the governor saying there is significant damage as rain and powerful winds lashed the island. More than a million customers are now without power in Puerto Rico.

ROMANS: At least eight people died, two others were seriously injured on the islands of St. Barts and St. Maarten. People who rode out the storm there describe paradise lost.


LOREN ANN MAYO, RESIDENT (via telephone): It's horrible. It's awful. This island was beautiful. It was a tropical paradise.

It's awful. I mean, roofs have blown off. There are cars damaged and flipped over. Back windows ripped out and bumpers ripped out. Everything's an absolute disaster, yes.


BRIGGS: Hurricane Irma blamed for the death of an infant on the Caribbean island of Barbuda where officials say more than 90 percent of its structures have damaged or destroyed. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, says the island is, quote, literally rubble and barely inhabitable.


GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER, ANTIGUA & BARBUDA (via telephone): It was heart wrenching, absolutely devastating. I have never seen any such destruction on a per-capita basis compared to what I say in Barbuda this afternoon. The infrastructure was damaged, all of the institutions, the lone hospital, the schools. It is absolutely heart- wrenching.


ROMANS: Now, Prime Minister Browne estimates the damage on Barbuda where some 1,800 people live to be at least $100 million. The storm wiped out the telecommunications system there and there is no water or phone service. Hurricane Irma has now maintained winds of at least 180 miles per hour longer than any storm in Atlantic history. Those sustained winds, 180 mile-per-hour for this long. It just never happened before.

BRIGGS: It is massive and destructive.

ROMANS: Right now, Irma is one of three hurricanes churning in the Atlantic. Jose and Katia behind it. The first time since 2010 the three Atlantic hurricanes have been active at the same time.

BRIGGS: Irma now prompting states of emergency in North Carolina, South Carolina, also six coastal counties in Georgia.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest for us.

Pedram, we've been focused a lot on Florida. But to that point, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, also under really -- looking like they could take a direct hit from this. When and where?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. You know, for parts of Florida, it could be as early as Sunday morning. Once you talk South Carolina, North Carolina, we could be pushing this back into Monday, September 11th, or Tuesday, September 12th. So, this is a ways out, but it is certainly not changing much as far

as the guidance is concerned with intensity. The 5:00 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center just released literally as you guys were tossing the segment to me, and my producer telling me no changes observed with the storm, still at 180 miles per hour going on 39 hours. The longest ever observed in recorded history.

The previous longest time period of a storm maintaining this intensity was 24 hours. That was super typhoon Haiyan that devastated the Philippines several years ago. So, you look at the storm system as it pushes west here across parts of the Turks and Caicos. The perspective is at that storm surge threat is going to be tremendous. Upwards of 20 feet across an area that does not have 20 feet of elevation to work with across much of the islands.

So, we know the devastation that's already been in place back behind it, around parts of the Lesser Antilles, working out of Barbuda into the St. Kitts, Martinique area, all of these regions similar sort of story could play out potentially with more destruction ahead of it because these islands are even lower than the islands it has impacted.

Look at the track here. They'll be going from Friday into Saturday. The right turn is still expected. We think potential landfall could still be a category four as it approaches Florida. But here's the model guidance for us. And you notice just a few of them now want to take this directly into Cuba before that right turn is expected.

The vast majority, which is what we look for, model run-to-run consistency, and any time you see a cluster of models, that's where you have the highest confidence the storm will take. So, we think a right turn will happen, potentially into the Caribbean without direct impact on into Cuba. That would bring the storm system on Saturday, say, around -- Sunday, say, 8:00, 9:00 in the morning around Miami. If we are lucky, best case scenario, this could be offshore of Miami. Worst case, of course, would be moving the eyewall over land.

Looking at the European and American model overlaid on top of one another gives you an idea of the incredible agreement with this going as it approaches Cuba both being into the Caribbean and look at -- notice the right turn, look at the blue which is typically the more reliable model being the European. It does want to take it in over Miami, over land, while about 30 or 40 miles offshore is where the American model keeps the storm system on into parts of the Atlantic and then this would potentially still retain a category-four strength as it approaches the coast of Carolina into Georgia. Somewhere around Savannah, Georgia, into Charleston by early next week.

So, here's the day-by-day outlook. We think typically two days is your latest point you should ever begin an evacuation. The last day is not a good idea. There's way too many elements, way too many people on the roadways to try to deal with this sort of a scenario, this sort of a storm. Essentially makes tomorrow the final day in parts of Florida to make these proper precautions. And of course we know hurricane Matthew having very similar track did not make landfall in Florida, left behind 600 lives lost and $15 billion in losses. Want to touch on something here, too. If the system approaches Miami

at the categories we expect, which would be right around a category four, we know Miami has exploded as far as buildings and structures in recent years, 145 miles per hour, that's the estimated wind speed on approach to Miami, which would be again, a healthy category four.

Once you get up to, say, 80 to 100 stories, the wind speeds because less friction could get as much as 30 percent higher. Get up 20, 30 stories high, winds could be as much as 30 to 40 miles per hour higher. We're talking well above that threshold once again of a category five-type winds for some of the structures.

Of course, a lot of structures are being built close to one another. So the winds will tend to channel themselves through this. So the gusts that the storm is producing versus the gusts that you would be feeling if you had any idea of -- any plans of being on the ground or on these regions would be considerably higher just because now you're talking about the largest structures this storm has had in its path. They will enhance some of the winds beyond what the forecast is showing.

ROMANS: You know, and at wind speeds much, much slower than that. I mean, street signs sliced through the air like a knife. You know, I mean, it's just so, so dangerous.

All right. Pedram, thank you so much. That's a really great illustration.

BRIGGS: Thank you. Yes, great context.

ROMANS: You got to get out. Pedram said by tomorrow, you got to have your plan and get out of there, because you're going to run out of time. The big airlines are slashing fares trying to get people out of Irma's path, but only after reports of some price gouging.

It got a lot of attention on social media. A Twitter used posted this screen grab of a delta flight from Miami to Phoenix. It shows an alert the ticket price changed from $547 to more than 3 grand. She later tweeted -- that got a lot of attention, a lot of retweets. She later said that the airline had reached out and helped tremendously.

Delta tells us on CNN Money this was an issue on Expedia's Website, not its own. It says never raised fares due to Irma.

That tipped off price caps from major airlines here. Delta says it won't charge more than $399 for flights out of Florida, the Caribbean, including first class. American Airlines capped the price of a main cabin seat on single-leg flights at $99. JetBlue offering any remaining seats at reduced fares between $99 and $159.

A lot of cruises, too, canceling cruises right and left here. Some of the cruise trips have been shortened so there will be refunds for the shortened parts of the trips or credits.

BRIGGS: One of our crew members here was supposed to be in Puerto Rico on vacation as we speak. ROMANS: Bummer.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, Irma prompting new mandatory evacuations in Florida. And Governor Rick Scott pleading with people to abide.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I cannot stress this enough -- do not ignore evacuation orders. Remember, we can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.


BRIGGS: More on what Florida is doing to prepare for Irma next.



[05:12:49] SCOTT: It's important to not focus on the exact path of the storm. A storm of this size could have effect statewide, and everyone must be prepared.


BRIGGS: Florida Governor Rick Scott warning everyone to prepare for Irma's fury. The National Hurricane Center says hurricane watches will likely be issued for parts of Florida today. American Airlines canceling nearly 2,200 flights today through Monday with operations winding down Friday afternoon in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, and West Palm Beach.

ROMANS: Orlando International Airport announcing all commercials flights will cease at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. Right now, there are mandatory evacuation orders in effect for coastal areas of Miami-Dade County, parts of Broward County, all of Monroe County. As the monster storm moves closer to the Florida coast, more evacuations are expected.

BRIGGS: It's been a long time since Floridians have seen anything like this storm. Irma has them packing up and heading north, fearful of what this monster may have in store. Kyung Lah in Homestead, Florida, with more.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, there are mandatory evacuations overnight in Miami-Dade County. We're standing in one of the areas impacted, Homestead, Florida.

And we came here to this particular mobile home park because during Hurricane Andrew, this park was almost completely destroyed. Many people lost their homes.

And we met here Edward Collins. He was packing up his white car. He was stuffing everything he owns, everything that's inside his mobile home into that car. He says he is driving north because he is, quote, beyond scared. He wants to completely get out of the state.

Now, we did see other preparations across the city of Miami. We saw sandbags being handed over to people, people who waited in line for more than an hour just to try to get some sandbags to try to keep water out of their homes. And in Miami Beach, we saw metal plates being put up against glass. Businesses hoping that these metal plates will protect them against the surge at the beach. The storm surge is a major, major concern -- Dave, Christine.


[05:15:03] BRIGGS: Kyung Lah, thank you for that.

President Trump once tweeted that deals are my art form. His latest deal is no masterpiece if you ask Republican leaders. The agreement the president made with Nancy and chuck on spending, the debt, and Harvey relief ahead.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of this situation. We discussed that also today. And Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I.


ROMANS: Chuck and Nancy.

BRIGGS: Chuck and Nancy.

ROMANS: President Trump chummy all of a sudden with Democrats.

[05:20:01] He was talking about working on a deal to protect DREAMers, the same day he stunned Republican leaders by cutting a deal with Democrats on a short-term debt ceiling increase.

BRIGGS: There was no mention of Paul and Mitch in that particular instance.

The agreement funds the government and gets Hurricane Harvey relief flowing. By siding with the Democrats, the president infuriated Republican leaders.

Let's bring in Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner."

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning, Sarah.

The president has long said he makes great deals. The Democrats would not disagree with him this morning. But what would Republicans think of a deal that earlier in the day House Speaker Paul Ryan called ridiculous and disgraceful before it was made?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes, obviously, GOP leadership was really unhappy with the way things unfolded yesterday. This was not something they wanted to do. Conservatives were balking at the idea of tying Harvey relief funding to the debt ceiling before there was even talk of shortening the timeline of the debt limit extension to three months. That's not something anyone in the GOP wanted to do.

And the message to the GOP from Trump seems to be that he doesn't need congressional Republicans for everything. He has expressed frustration in the past with the way members of leadership, particularly Mitch McConnell, have dictated the pace and the terms of his agenda and produced very little in terms of results. So, I think that is fuelling in part his decision to side with his friends, Chuck and Nancy, in this instance because they're promising to get something done. And that three-month timeline guarantees this is going to pass with ease.

ROMANS: The picture is worth a thousand words. The two New Yorkers deep in that close, chummy embrace caught by Getty Images.

This is what the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board says about the Pelosi, Schumer, Trump. The American people may think they elected Republican government last November. But it's increasingly hard to tell. Mr. Trump is sore the Republican leaders failed on health care, so he now undermines their fiscal strategy and all but hands the gavels to Democrats. Readers might take note and hold off on spending that tax cut.

What does this do to the Republican agenda?

WESTWOOD: Well, this could imperil the big hearts of the Republican agenda like tax reform, like hoping to get some concessions out of Democrats for immigration because Republicans are hoping to pass through the DACA protections legislatively, because the Republicans are already a little distrustful of President Trump after the summer of controversy that he's had after he spent much of the August recess going after incumbent Republicans and not going after Democrats who are legitimately vulnerable in 2018. That's frustrated a lot of members of leadership.

And so, now, to have President Trump discard their preferred strategy for the debt ceiling, for the continuing resolution in favor of something that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer wanted, really embarrassing Paul Ryan in particular because Paul Ryan had gone out that morning and called the particularly strategy ridiculous and unworkable --


WESTWOOD: -- that has -- he didn't have a lot of goodwill built up on Capitol Hill before this incident. And so, it's really difficult to see which Republicans will want to go to the mat for President Trump after all this.

BRIGGS: Yes. Not to mention he flies with Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp who's up for re-election in a state he won by double digits, gives her a campaign ad. Gives her a campaign ad.

So, this is odd strategy. His friend, Steve Bannon, now "Breitbart" -- you see the caption on the photo with him, Pelosi, Schumer and McConnell with the caption "meet the swamp." Steve Bannon is making his voice heard even though he's gone.

So, need we search for any strategy here?

WESTWOOD: Well, there are some advisers around President Trump who have been pushing him toward a more bipartisan direction, saying that if you just tried to reach out to the Democrats, maybe you would be able to strike some of these elusive ground bargains. And then folks like Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus who are no longer there are the ones who have always counseled the president, that in this political climate, the Democrats are never going to want to work with you no matter what, if you give an inch, they're going to take a mile, and have counseled him against doing this.

So, it's interesting that his first big overture to the Democrats is coming once Bannon and his ilk are -- have been pushed out of the White House now, the voices who have pushed him in a more bipartisan relation have prevailed. But it's not clear that Democrats are going to be willing to meet President Trump in the middle when it comes to some of the things that he wants like funding for the border wall.

ROMANS: And any one of the voices that the president has in his ear is his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who is an adviser to the president, works there in the White House. But then yesterday, there was this moment in North Dakota when the president was there trying to sell his tax reform, the prospects of tax reform, and he talked about his daughter in this way. Listen.


[05:25:02] TRUMP: Everybody loves Ivanka. Come up, honey. Should I bring Ivanka up? Come on.

Sometimes they'll say, you know, he can't be that bad a guy -- look at Ivanka. Now, come on up, honey.

She's so good. She wanted to make the trip. She said, dad, can I go with you? She actually said, daddy, can I go with you? I like that, right? Daddy, can I go with you? I said, yes, you can.


ROMANS: Now, I don't know what to make of that moment. What is Ivanka's role in advising her father here?

WESTWOOD: Well, in text reform specifically, Ivanka has been very involved in this push for a childcare tax credit. It's something that she's championed since the campaign trail. It's one of the few issues that is truly in her wheelhouse alone. The other is paid family leave.

These are actually more progressive ideas that Ivanka Trump has adopted that she spent time meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, trying to get their buy-in for these policies. Even though she is billed as sort of this broad senior adviser to the president who is involved in discussions on a wide range of issues, these are really the two that are squarely in her portfolio.

ROMANS: Does he undermine her when he says she calls me daddy and wanted to come along? Does he undermine the gravitas she's trying to have?

WESTWOOD: You know, it's always a possibility. But I think that everybody knows Ivanka Trump is his daughter. They know they have this close and sometimes strange relationship.

But it is important that he elevate her role in this tax reform debate because it's one of the few issues she's focused on since the beginning. And she's trying to get buy-in from a lot of Republicans who are skeptical right now of her policy.

BRIGGS: Well, she also came into the end of the meeting with House and Senate leadership. And according to reports, the subject matter veered wildly off topic. Republicans reportedly are not so happy without that appearance.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. Sarah, nice to see you. Come back in a half hour. We'll talk more about what a wild day it was yesterday in Washington.

BRIGGS: Indeed. A dealmaker.

All right. A hurricane with winds that would stretch the length of Florida is barreling toward the state. Less than 48 hours until the storm approaches the U.S., Irma carving a deadly path through the Caribbean.