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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hurricane Irma Aftermath; Bannon Targeting Republicans?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are all multimillion-dollar homes with pools in their backyards.

You can imagine that Atlantic Ocean coming through, rushing through these carports, carrying whatever is loose in its path, pottery like this, and taking out fences and trees and the occasional boat or two here, and you can see it.

But the construction that goes with the price tag of these homes keeps them from being swept away. It is not the case in smaller communities and trailer parks. You can imagine saw much more devastation.

But, of course, this is just stuff. The main concern right now is human life, and, officially, there is only a couple of confirmed fatalities from Irma in the Florida Keys, but there are hundreds who are listed as missing on Facebook pages, and I'm getting social media calls. Could you please go check on my parents on Sugarloaf Key or Plantation Key?

It's heartbreaking. And there is no way of knowing if they are OK or they're just cut off from communication, because there is no telephone service pretty much south of mile marker 70. It goes from zero at Key West all the way up to 125 as you are getting closer to Miami. And the Lower Keys are cut off.

And the roads are impassable there, and we have heard calls for humanitarian aid, so much so that the Navy is sending an aircraft carrier, the USS Lincoln, down to Key West to help the folks out, and three other Naval ships as well.

Through the coconut telegraph, you hear -- I have been talking to fishermen who hear from other fishermen that they saw bodies floating. We can't confirm any of that until we can get out of here and get south.

And that has become a logistical nightmare. Just imagine not being able to go to the store to get the gas for your chain saw in order to clear the road, in order to -- or get power back where you can charge your phone and find out if mom and dad is OK.

So we are in for a long logistical chess game here. And this is just the beginning, but we are getting a boat tomorrow and we're heading down to the Keys, Jake, and reporting everything that we can find. JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, and we will go to you every day.

Bill Weir, thank you so much for your amazing reporting.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in the town of Goodland, Florida, where communication has also been spotty at best.

Ed, tell us about the challenges getting to where you are now.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are on the eastern edge of Marco Island.

Most of the island handled the storm relatively well, but this is an area that took the Category 3. This is the area where the second landfall hit on the southwest part of Florida with wind gusts around 130 and as high as 140 miles per hour.

There is a man by the name of Gary Stringer (ph) who waited out this storm here in this house right here, and look at what he barely missed here. The giant tree collapsed here. And the wind blew it that way. Had it gone the other way, Gary Stringer says he is not sure he would be alive talking to us, and telling us about this story.

Crazily enough, Jake, a number of people decided to ride out the storm. This is on the very edge where the Everglades meets the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that some people stayed behind here and withstood this storm is simply amazing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Bradenton, Florida. That's just south of Tampa.

Dianne, you have been surveying damage in a neighborhood where a lot of seniors live. A lot of seniors, of course, do live in Florida. Many of the seniors will be coming home to see unbelievable damage to their homes.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake.

We just want to basically put this into perspective. You can here this is a gutter straight across this. This is basically the remains of a carport sort of scattered across the alley here, and pieces from several houses ending up different streets over.

People with no damage found carports in their yards and thought maybe it was their homes.

I want to give you an idea of where we are. We're right on a bay. And so I want to show you with the CNN drone some live pictures, so you can see the damage from above, but can also see how close they are to the bay.

That is why the sheriff came out on Friday and told me. He had a bullhorn and said everybody needs to get out now. He went by door to door. You're senior citizens. This is 55 and older community only and said you need to leave. Make sure you get out of here.

They all did. There was no one in these homes, which is good, because when you take a look at the larger picture here, you can see. This -- this sun porch completely shattered in. There used to be a carport here.

We've been waiting because this has kind of been coming down as we're here. Across the rest of Bradenton, there are a lot of the trees down, and very few people right now are dealing with power, because there are a lot of power lines still down, a lot of live power, Jake, and water issues.

There are sewage spills they're trying to clean up. But most certainly the best part about all of this for any of them is the fact that there were not injuries, that people were OK.

And so while you can replace the things -- if this is your mother or your father, this is serious to you, but, again, no injuries. Nobody was hurt.

TAPPER: All right, thankful for that.

Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much.

[16:35:00]

Florida's Governor Rick Scott said that more than half of his state is without power. And it could be days, if not weeks before the lights come back on.

Joining me now is Robert Gould. He is the vice president of Florida Power & Light.

Mr. Gould, thank you for joining me.

As of now, what is your best estimate for how long it will take to fully restore power to millions of people who are in a desperate situation?

ROBERT GOULD, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: Yes, it is going to take some time.

We have been very clear that -- part of it is going to depend upon what part of the state of Florida you are in. If you are on the east coast, it's going to be much quicker, because it is going to be a more typical restoration.

But if you're on the west coast, where there was complete devastation, we are talking about a potential entire rebuild. And we have been restoring power very aggressively. We have about 3.5 million of our five million customers out.

A customer is a meter, so you're talking about seven to eight million people without power. But we have restored power to upwards of 1.5 million already since the storm began using largely our automation, all the investments that we have put into the grid in the past decade, $3 billion worth.

Some of that is paying off in dividends. But it is going to be a long road for many of our customers.

TAPPER: Seven to eight million Floridians without power in a state of 20 million, that is almost half of the population.

Do you have enough manpower to deal with this massive operation?

GOULD: We do.

We have 19,500 restoration workers, and it is an army of workers that we had had pre-positioned well before the storm hit us. It is the largest pre-positioning not just in our company's history, but in the U.S.

Now, that said, we are still going to be seeking and we will be receiving more support from our colleagues to the north and west and especially those that are tree trimmers and the like, because Mother Nature has not done a wholesale house cleaning in the past decade.

So what we're seeing is a ton of debris that is out there that has flown into our lines and all of our equipment, and so we have the resources, but we are going to be bringing in more.

TAPPER: What is the biggest challenge that you are facing in restoring the power?

GOULD: The biggest challenge is going to be the flooded waters.

Literally just in the past couple of hours, the storm just left our northern territory, and we have seen all the images of all the flooding. Flooding is a huge concern for us. It's a huge concern just not only because it hampers our crews' ability to maneuver and drive to where they need to go, but it is also a safety hazard for our customers, especially at night.

If they are walking outside and they step into some puddles or water, they may not be able to see a downed line that could be energized. And so safety is the most concern for us.

The most fatalities that occur in a situation like this occur after the storm has passed, and so that is something that we are very, very focused on.

TAPPER: All right, Robert Gould, thank you for your time. And good luck.

We are continuing to monitor Irma as she heads north.

But coming up next in our politics lead, now that he has left the White House, Steve Bannon says he is going to war. And those he is targeting, well, it might surprise you.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:47]

TAPPER: One World Trade Center this morning in New York City, as the nation paused to mark the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this morning.

The bell marking the moment American Airlines Flight 11 was crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center by radical Islamic terrorists with al Qaeda.

Today, people who lost loved ones that day gathered at the 9/11 Memorial site to mourn those gone, but not forgotten.

Speaking at the Pentagon, President Trump remembered the victims and the way Americans responded to the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On that day, not only did the world change, but we all changed.

Our eyes were opened to the depths of the evil we face. But in that hour of darkness, we also came together with renewed purpose. Our differences never looked so small. Our common bonds never fell so strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president was just back from a weekend huddled with advisers at Camp David, where he and his team focused on the federal response to Hurricane Irma.

In our politics lead today, President Lyndon Johnson once said of J. Edgar Hoover, it is probably better to have him outside of the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

And President Trump is about to learn what that means. His former senior strategist Steve Bannon is preparing for political war and has set his sights on the Republican establishment.

A source close to Bannon revealing to CNN details of his plan to target Senate Republicans who have been critical of the president or his agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon now has a new role, chief strategist in a likely uncivil war against establishment Republicans.

A source close to Bannon tells CNN the Breitbart News chairman and his allies are preparing a slate of Republican primary challenges against those senators deemed insufficiently supportive of the president and his agenda. SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think the voters here expect me to

have my own franchise, to represent them, not to be a rubber stamp for the president. So, I am quite comfortable being where I am.

TAPPER: Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake is just one political target this primary season. Others include Nevada's Dean Heller, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Luther Strange of Alabama, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The President needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation.

TAPPER: Corker was once a considered for Trump's Cabinet but he had tough words for the President after he said there were fine people marching alongside white supremacist in Virginia.

CORKER: The President has not been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competencies that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

TAPPER: Corker tells CNN he's undecided on whether to run for another term. But even with potentially one less target, Bannon has been busy. Politico first reported that Bannon has held private meetings with potential pro-Trump challengers whom he plans to support in the primaries. As for the cash, Politico reports that Bannon has brought in conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer. But Bannon isn't just targeting senators up in 2018, he also went after House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on 60 Minutes Sunday.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They dot no want Donald Trump's populist, economic, nationalist agenda to be implemented. It's very obvious.

TAPPER: Saying, the GOP establishment needs to be "put on notice."

BANNON: They're going to be held accountable if they do not support the President of United States

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We may be answering more questions on Steve Bannon now that he's not here than when he was.

TAPPER: Asked about Bannon's plans, his former colleagues from the White House today said this.

SANDERS: Right now, the President is committed to working with the leadership we have and nothing beyond that at this point.

TAPPER: Bannon also adds some tough words for those within the White House who don't support his nationalist agenda including Gary Cohn and Jarred Kushner. The latter of whom reportedly advises President Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you in favor of him being fired?

BANNON: It's being reported by the media, I was adamantly opposed to that.

SANDERS: I think that that has been shown in the days that follow that the President was right in firing Director Comey.

TAPPER: Bannon called that decision the worst mistake in modern political history. History it seems that Bannon is now trying to make outside the Oval Office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Let's bring in my panel to talk about this and much more. But first, Ana Navarro, obviously you're a Floridian. I know your heart, and your soul and your thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Florida. Are you hearing from people who are there who rode out the storm, Ana?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I got a lot of friends, a lot of families, loved ones who rode out the storm. I think that they were very scared. Last night they are very grateful for the thoughts and the coverage of CNN frankly and the things that the first responders are doing. You know, in times like this, you realize just how many people go out there and risk their lives, leave their families and their homes and go make things better for the rest of us. People like the first responders, people in the Emergency Management Service staff, people at Florida Power and Light, people in the hospitality industry, reporters, just so, so many people. So, I think that I speak as a Floridian today thanking all of those that made the experience so much more bearable for those that were in Florida.

TAPPER: And amen to that. Brian, let's talk about Steve Bannon and his plans to target Republican Senators and incumbents up for re- election who have been in his view insufficiently supportive of the President and his agenda. Corker, Wicker, Flake, Heller, Luther Strange, and this could really potentially cause some serious problems for Republican Party.

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It could potentially, however, I don't think that now that Steve Bannon has left the White House, we should exaggerate his influence. I think that for seven months, he was supposedly the evil genius behind the scenes, pulling the strings behind the -- scenes of the Donald Trump Presidency. And then, for the first time really, we heard him in a sit-down interview with 60 Minutes and I think he came up mostly as evil but not so much genius. I mean, a lot of rantings there that I don't think -- I think people trying to explain the election have tried to lionize Steve Bannon, tied to idealize or intellectualize the appeal of the nature of the campaign that Donald Trump waged.

It was pretty plainly an appeal to the white nationalism. Steve Bannon though didn't pioneer that. he didn't invest that. Donald Trump is doing that well before Steve Bannon's arrival and he's continuing to press ahead with DACA even in Steve Bannon's absence. So it's not clear to me that Steve Bannon was the most influential guy when he was inside the White House. I'm not sure how influential he'll be outside. Just think about the fact that even when he was inside the White House, he could not get Donald Trump to endorse Roy Moore who was the supposedly the Republican base for a candidate in Alabama. Instead, Donald Trump endorsed the establishment pick, the incumbent Mr. Strange. So whether he can have more influence with access to Bob Mercer's money outside, we'll just have to see.

TAPPER: Although Ana, I have to say it was interesting -- one of the things I got from the interview yesterday, Steve Bannon talking about his respect of the institutions, and that is where he and the President have really butted heads. That was the suggestion at least. And he said that he thought it was the worst mistake in the modern political history for the President to have fired the FBI Director James Comey which of course spawned the Mueller investigation, which seems to have -- I think Bannon diagnosed properly and accurately a wider berth of things to look at than Comey was looking at. The White House today standing by the decision.

[16:50:14] NAVARRO: Well, you know, this White House stands by every decision it makes. There's definitely no argument that the consequences for firing Comey have been very negative for Donald Trump. And I think that if he had to do it over again, he might be a little less impulsive and a little more reflective about doing it. I thought that the interview was eerie frankly. And it was horrifying to think that somebody that is so obsessed, so, so downright nativist and evil could have been in that White House with the ear of the President for so many months. Whether he's inside or outside, you know, it's -- as a Republican, it's sad to think that this guy wants to wage war with other Republicans.

He wants -- you know, the interview was full of contradictions because on the one hand, he claims to be an institutionalist, but on the other hand, he does not respect the co-equal branch, the legislative branch. He wants to bring them under you know, the command of Donald Trump and wants them to bow to Donald Trump and do what Donald Trump wants them to do and not what they want to do. And then, you know, he talks about the fear of there being a civil war in the Republican Party as we head into the primaries, but it is precisely what he is trying to do by holding people accountable. You know, the people that need to hold their Representatives and their Senators accountable is not Steve Breitbart --

TAPPER: Steve Bannon.

NAVARRO: Steve -- I should call him Steve Breitbart. I think that might be a more apropos -- it is their constituents, is the voters of their state.

TAPPER: But -- let me ask you this. I mean, he would say that he's trying to get the Republicans not to be under the control of President Trump, but to have them be behind President Trump's nationalistic agenda or however you want to describe it. But Brian, to be fair to Steve Bannon, he is not wrong that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan do not buy into a lot of that especially when it comes to the signature issue that Steve Bannon talks about the most, trade.

FALLON: Right. But my point is just that I think that Steve Bannon's role has been exaggerated and quite frankly I hope he doesn't continue to have a platform to spew the racist ideas in the weeks ahead. Because this is somebody who, when he was in the White House, Donald -- he did not succeed in getting Donald Trump to do anything about the trade. So yes, you're right, Paul Ryan doesn't share his views on that issue. Be he didn't succeed in getting Donald to -- what happened to renegotiating NAFTA? We're seven months in and that hasn't happened.

NAVARRO: The problem is that people who vote in Republican primaries do read Breitbart and do believe a lot the stuff that's written in Breitbart as untrue and inaccurate as it may be.

TAPPER: All right, Ana and Brian, thank you so much, always good to have you here. Turning back to our top story, the deadly destruction from Irma stretching far beyond Florida. Next, we're going live to Cuba where the death toll from the storm is rising. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Utter devastation in the Caribbean in our "WORLD LEAD." Irma ravages three of the islands killing at least 36 people. Hurricane force winds tore down homes, ripped the roofs, clean off buildings, uprooted trees like weeds. And this is what it was like to be lashed by terrifying winds and rain on the ground. CNN's Patrick Oppmann rode out the storm as Irma blast through Cuba on Friday night. He is joins me now from Havana looking much drier and safer. Patrick, the images from the Caribbean look as though they're like from a war zone.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Everywhere you look and -- it's one of the same images here in Havana. People have been taking out their belongings where they were soaked under days and days of water. If I come here yesterday, Jake, I would have been probably chest-deep in water. And all of the houses behind me along Havana sea port were flooded, so people have been taking out their belongings to dry out in the sun. that's all they can do. As (INAUDIBLE) the rain this afternoon, they have been putting them back in. Not so much desperation here, because the government has been giving food and has everything somewhat organized, but no electricity, no water, and the sea water has gotten into the water supply. So tough times anywhere you look. And not a lot of information for people wherever you are, so frustration is rising. Jake.

TAPPER: And obviously, different parts of the Caribbean experienced this differently. some parts people are more desperate for food and resources than they are in Cuba. In St. Martin for example, now we hear reports of civil unrest.

OPPMANN: Absolutely. And you know, I think that people can understand that someone perhaps looting for food if they are hungry. But we are talking about the televisions being stolen. Televisions in the country without electricity right now, so no one is even watching these T.V.s, This seems like it's gotten out of control. Other islands, you hear about curfews being stated, Americans being evacuated. So I think the most frustrating thing talking to tourists have come by this afternoon is how little information there is. The internet has been locked -- knocked out in Havana by the storm, people are trying to find out how they can fly to the U.S. They don't know when the airport will be open. And there's a lot of rumor that go around. The Cuban government came out today said that ten had died, but we've heard rumors of many more. So very deadly storm that just continues to have sad and unfortunate effects around these islands. This could take years Jake, for the Caribbean recover from this disastrous storm.

TAPPER: All right, Patrick Oppmann, he's joining us from Havana, Cuba thank you, good to see you as always. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you for watching.