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Trump: Facebook Ads Part Of "Russia Hoax"; Puerto Rico Governor: At Least 13 Killed By Maria; Trump Center Stage In Alabama GOP Senate Primary Runoff; GOP Push New Effort To Repeal And Replace Obamacare. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN POLITICS: And then, is there a then what or does it just continue like this while the Rex Tillersons of the world seek diplomatic solutions and the sanctions, they hope, do their work.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All good questions and all answered by collateral example with what's going on with the Russia investigation.

Literally, how hot can it get, how petty can the president get, how can everyone around him try to cover and wind up looking like fools? We're getting a real-time demonstration of it.

Yesterday, we had H.R. McMaster on the show, the national security adviser to the president, and he said the questions about Russian interference matter, that they have to be taken seriously, and that the president agrees.

Let's play the sound just to remind everyone what he said yesterday.


CUOMO: The questions about what they did, who might have helped them, and how to stop it, you believe those are all legitimate questions for us to look at?

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Of course, and so does the president.

CUOMO: He's been -- he's been in different positions on that issue.


CUOMO: Why did I say that? Because he's tweeting this morning, "The Russian hoax continues. Now, it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?

The greatest influence over the election was the fake news media screaming for Crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate."

CILLIZZA: I mean --

CUOMO: I mean, Chris, forget about embarrassing H.R. McMaster, once again putting someone of integrity --


CUOMO: -- out there to give a message and then undermining him immediately. But, why defend Russia against what Facebook says clearly came from a Russian troll farm? Why do that?

CILLIZZA: Forget Facebook, how about the FBI? Every intelligence agency we have has said yes, we believe strongly Russia sought to influence the election. Yes, we believe they sought to influence the election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

Now, that's -- unless you think that every intelligence agency is somehow controlled by the media, which would be -- I mean, that's a really big story you've happened on.

CUOMO: And, Facebook because they're saying --


CUOMO: -- these came from a Russian troll farm.

CILLIZZA: Chris, so --

CUOMO: So now, they have to be added to the list.

CILLIZZA: This is what is difficult here. There is no evidence that this Russia investigation is a hoax. You can say it a million times, you can blame the media for it. That -- there's no evidence there.

Is there evidence that Donald Trump or Trump associates colluded with the Russians? We don't have that. He's conflating the two things but there's no question, no one who knows anything about the story -- who has followed the story in any way, shape or form can reasonably conclude that this whole thing is a hoax.


CILLIZZA: It simply isn't.

And, frankly, it matters because we're talking about a foreign power actively seeking to influence the election. Whether they were successful or not --


CILLIZZA: -- is important but not the central point.

That they did it, that this Facebook thing shows how widespread it way, how advanced and innovative in terms of using social media it was, that's the point --


CILLIZZA: -- here --


CILLIZZA: -- that he never, ever, ever gets. Sorry, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, only because I think that that's the bigger point that we need to get to --


CAMEROTA: -- David, and that is that the president doesn't grasp or doesn't, I guess --

CUOMO: Like.

CAMEROTA: -- believe or like --


CAMEROTA: -- the pernicious effect that Russian troll farms had on the election by creating yes, fake -- the word that he uses -- accounts on Facebook.

And, Facebook now says it is bigger than we thought -- the scale of it's bigger.

And people believed it. I mean, we talk to voters all the time. They believed the fake news that they saw on Facebook and we know it had an effect on how they voted because they've told us that. And that whole element, the president rejects.


He has a very difficult time separating out the fact of the Russians attempting to influence the election and what the outcome was. And we can't prove, and we never will be able to prove, I suspect, whether or not the Russian influence had any effect on the vote in the end or any consequential effect.

But in the president's mind, as many around him have said many times, he believes this entire thing is about delegitimizing his election.


SANGER: My own view is how hard could it be to say I think I was legitimately -- I know I was legitimately elected as president. However, we can never tolerate a foreign power trying to mess in our election.

They clearly tried and here are the five things we're going to do --

CILLIZZA: That's right.

SANGER: -- starting with a commission that will look at what that was and how we prevent it in the 2018 and certainly, the 2020 presidential election. And it strikes me that that would probably have gone a long way towards solving a lot of his problems months ago.

[07:35:04] CUOMO: And to achieve his end, Chris, it would make him look strong.

CILLIZZA: It's exactly --

CUOMO: Whereas, these tweets make him look weak.

CILLIZZA: You could -- David's point is so essentially important.

Two things -- you can hold these two ideas in your mind. Yes, the Russians sought to actively influence the election and yes, Donald Trump is the legitimate president. I mean, those two things can co- exist.

Another important point. If the President of the United States calls the investigation into a foreign power trying to influence our elections a hoax over and over again, and we know from intelligence agencies that they will -- that they, the Russians, believe this was very successful and will continue to do so, then we miss the potential threats coming in the future elections rather than addressing what happened in this past one.

CUOMO: And how long do you keep a Rex Tillerson, an H.R. McMaster if you keep embarrassing them in public --


CUOMO: -- where they go out and they say things and then the president, himself, winds up making them look like they didn't know what they were talking about?

CILLIZZA: That's right.

CAMEROTA: David, Chris, thank you --

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- very much.

SANGER: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right.

Something happening in real time that demands attention. The Caribbean islands reeling from the destructive force of Hurricane Maria.

There is a coalition of New York civic leaders now joining forces to help victims. We're going to talk with one of them, a congressman, next.



CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: The Puerto Rico and the San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there. I'm just concerned that we may not get to everybody in time and that is a great weight on my shoulders.


CAMEROTA: That's the mayor of San Juan on the dire situation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The island's governor says at least 13 people have now been killed.

Joining us is New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat. He's a member of the New York delegation hailing from Caribbean nations determined to give those communities a voice.

Congressman, thanks so much --


CAMEROTA: -- for being here.

You have a large concentration of Puerto Rican Americans in your district. Do they know the fate of their loved ones? Are they able to get in touch with them?

ESPAILLAT: Well, many of them have not been able to get in touch with their loved ones. A lot of anxiety, hurt. Really a sad situation on the island but the Puerto Rican people have a lot of strength and I am confident that the island will again come back up.

CAMEROTA: I mean, we have people right here on our staff -- my producer, Jennifer Rivera, doesn't know this morning if all of her relatives survived.

[07:40:02] Is there any such thing as a database? How are people in the -- in the continental U.S. able to figure out what's happening with their relatives?

ESPAILLAT: Well, some through what's up -- WhatsApp -- the -- an application that some phones have. There have been some communications. But for the most part, people have not been able to get in touch with their loves ones because the electrical grid has been down and out, yes.

CAMEROTA: So, Puerto Rico is now -- I mean, speaking of the electric grid, it's without power indefinitely. You know, we've heard some people say it will be a month, we've heard some people say it will be four to six months.

How are people going to function without power, obviously cell towers, running water, clean water? How are they going to work and function?

ESPAILLAT: Well, that's our task and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has taken a leadership role, as well as the city council speaker here in New York City, in making sure that we take emergency help immediately to Puerto Rico.

And that means emergency generators, non-perishable goods. All of the items that are usually very important right after the storm.

I think it's important that we take the needed items that are needed right now. Not two weeks from now, but right now.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about how Congress is going to pay for this. Puerto Rico is going to need billions in federal assistance. What's Congress prepared to do?

ESPAILLAT: Well, it is estimated that Puerto Rico is going to need $10 billion to really come back up on its feet.

And we have approved for Hurricane Harvey $15 billion and that was open-ended. The language was written in a way that it would also apply to Hurricane Irma, and that's for Houston and Florida. And that, we felt, was not enough.

It is estimated that it will be about $180 billion to rebuild Texas and Florida. And so, $10 billion for Puerto Rico.

We've got to go back, do our work, make sure the funding is there for FEMA. Make sure the funding is there for the nine U.S. territory countries that were also hurt, through the State Department.

And this is important -- so important. We play a role traditionally to help out countries that have been down and out and this is the moment to help Puerto Rico.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, I don't have to tell you these numbers are staggering and Congress never seems that willing to open its pocketbook. And so, these numbers are just not at -- it wasn't, obviously, in the budget.

Nobody knew what was going to happen to Houston, and to Florida, and to Puerto Rico so how are you going to find these hundreds of billions of dollars.

ESPAILLAT: This is a matter of life and death and we've got to rebuild these communities and Puerto Rico is an island that has U.S. citizens. They're all U.S. citizens. They fought in our wars, they contributed to our --

CAMEROTA: It's our commonwealth.

ESPAILLAT: It's our commonwealth so we must step up right now and bring the dollars that are necessary to Puerto Rico.

The Hispanic Federation has hosted a series of meetings with the leadership throughout the last couple of days. We're going to be raising money. They can go to the Hispanic Federation -- anybody.

CAMEROTA: But what pot do you take that money out of?

ESPAILLAT: Well, there is funding available. There should be funding available for these types of emergency and for some time we have been worried that the administration has cut -- for example, the State Department, which usually helps nine U.S. territories.

FEMA has cried for help.


ESPAILLAT: Said that they're running out of money.

We must find the funding and the funding is there. When it's needed, it's there. We found $15 billion but that's not enough. We must go back and do our work.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Espaillat, thank you very much --

ESPAILLAT: Thank you so much, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- for coming into our studio today -- Chris.

CUOMO: President Trump jumping into the fray as an Alabama Senate race heats up. Can he put his candidate over the top? He has an old friend going against him.

We have a live report, next.


[07:45:30] CAMEROTA: Now, to politics.

President Trump headlines a rally tonight in Alabama for Luther Strange, who is in a tight race for the Senate seat that was vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Strange and his opponent, former state Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore, faced off in a fiery debate last night.

And, CNN's Alex Marquardt is live in Montgomery, Alabama with the latest. Tell us what happened, Alex.


Well, Luther Strange did not miss an opportunity in last night's debate to remind everyone that he is President Trump's man in this race.

It is an extraordinary move by President Trump to wade into a Republican primary like this, one that speaks to the high stakes for the party in this race and the deep divisions, as well. But it also pits President Trump against many of his own voters in his core base of support.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): With the race in the final stretch, the candidates are bringing out the big guns. Judge Roy Moore, who's thought to be in the lead, taking the stage alongside Sarah Palin and recently fired White House counterterror adviser Sebastian Gorka.

ROY MOORE, FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE, ALABAMA SUPREME COURT: This is a very important election. I don't know that other people realize that but everybody in Washington, as I said tonight, is watching this election.

MARQUARDT: Moore and his friends trying to define the choice in stark terms, the outsider or the swamp.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR, ALASKA: This isn't a campaign, this is a movement. Enough is enough. The status quo has got to go.

MARQUARDT: That shot directed at Moore's establishment-backed opponent, Luther Strange, who is also supported by President Trump who has praised his loyalty on Twitter.

STEVE FLOWERS, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, COMMENTATOR, HISTORIAN: The irony is that most of the voters who are supporting Moore are Trump supporters, you know. And I don't think they're going to come off of Moore because Trump says to.

MARQUARDT: Strange and Moore faced off Thursday night in a testy debate. The former Alabama attorney general reminding voters time and time again that he is the president's man.

SEN. LUTHER STRANGE (R), ALABAMA: Because we've developed a close personal friendship. I've supported him 100 percent of the time. That's why the president endorsed me. He knows I have a record of defending the Constitution.

MARQUARDT: Moore, in turn, blasted Strange's Washington lobbying but made clear that he supports the president on core issues, like the wall, deporting Dreamers, and kicking transgender people out of the military.

MOORE: The problem is, President Trump's being cut off in his office. He's being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda.

MARQUARDT: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that Moore could be a major headache. Rank and file Republicans are afraid he'll paint them all with his far-right brush.

As chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was twice taken off the bench. First, for refusing to remove the 10 Commandments monument he had installed in the building, then suspended for refusing to follow the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage.

He suggested that 9/11 happened because Americans turned away from God.

And just this week, was accused of racially insensitive remarks, saying "Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting." On Thursday night, he repeated the line and defended himself.

MOORE: I was talking about the division in our society -- black and white, red and yellow. They're so politically correct that they become politically stupid.


MARQUARDT: A tirade there against political correctness, the kind we have seen many times from President Trump.

Now, President Trump's rally with Luther Strange due to kick off tonight in Huntsville, Alabama at 8:00 p.m. eastern time. That will be followed on Monday, the day before the election, by a visit from Vice President Mike Pence, who will also be campaigning with Strange.

The White House pulling out all the stops in this very tight race -- Chris.

CUOMO: And you see that extreme right come into play with Trump's old buddy Steve Bannon going against him, backing Moore against the president's candidate, Luther Strange. Interesting political test afoot.

Alex, thank you very much.

All right. So, the GOP's latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare may hinge on the Senate parliamentarian. Who? A what? We have answers for you, next.


[07:54:00] CUOMO: All right, important information for you.

Senate Republicans are attempting to pass Graham-Cassidy under the budget reconciliation process.

What is it and why does it matter to you? Well, it's a shortcut for Senate bills and it really only applies to bills that impact the budget.

The good news for Republicans is that it requires a simple majority, 51 votes. Yes, all votes work that way but when there's a filibuster -- that's when a party stalls to delay a vote -- the current rule requires 60 votes to break a filibuster. So that's why there is an end-run around the normal legislative process here.

The dicey part is that while the GOP holds the majority, they have only 52 senators. Now, that number winds up getting real thin, real fast.

Remember what happened last time to the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, torpedoed by John McCain's simple thumbs down, something that fellow Republicans don't want to see happen again.

[07:55:04] Now, one of the reasons that McCain killed that last bill was because it never came before a Senate committee for hearings. It wasn't debated, it wasn't analyzed, it wasn't chewed on the way legislation is supposed to be.

Now, Graham-Cassidy may come before a committee, the Homeland Security Committee. What does that have to do with a health care bill? Well, nothing except Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is one of the authors of the bill and he chairs it, so he could technically bring the bill before his committee and supporters of the bill could say that it then came before a committee.

See what I'm saying? All right.

So something as important as a bill that guts the health care system deserves robust debate, yes? Graham-Cassidy is going to get a debate. You're going to hear that. They'll say oh, that's not true that it's not getting a debate.

A minute and a half's worth of debate. That's what it's going to get because again, technically it's an amendment to the previous Republican health care bill which has already been debated. So just 90 seconds of debate will be required for Graham-Cassidy.

Meanwhile, there is a deadline in play, September 30th. If they don't get it done by then they lose this reconciliation deadline.

That's why they're running to get it through so quickly because budget reconciliation measures have to be passed by the end of the fiscal year. The year ends on that date.

So the big question is do they have the votes? Will they get it passed via reconciliation?

We have someone for you. You may not even know that this person exists in our government but they have a key role in exactly this process -- the Senate parliamentarian.

Now, Alan Frumin spent 35 years in the parliamentarian's office and nearly 19 as the chief. He joins us now.

Sir, thank you very much for being with us. I've been looking forward to this segment the entire show.

Tell us why the parliamentarian matters in this situation.

ALAN FRUMIN, SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN EMERITUS: Chris, thanks very much for having me on.

The parliamentarian matters because she is the Senate's official referee. She is the person who is responsible for understanding the Senate's rules and its precedence and understanding the various nuances of the -- in this instance, the reconciliation process.

She is the one who is the custodian of keeping the process focused on making discreet and budgetary changes and she is one who has to interpret the Byrd Rule. And the Byrd Rule is designed to keep the reconciliation process focused on budgetary changes and to keep comprehensive substantive proposals somewhat at bay. So that's why the parliamentarian matters. CUOMO: But what's the muscle? All right, so the Byrd Bath -- I love that term -- that is something that if there's anything in this measure that doesn't go to a budgetary impact we strip it out.

And one of the things that's in this current bill is let's not give any health care dollars at all from the federal government to anyone who has anything to do with abortion. You could argue that's not fiscally sensitive and should be stripped out -- the parliamentarian says so. But then, the politicians could just ignore it, can't they?

FRUMIN: Well, the parliamentarian simply gives advice to the presiding officer of the Senate. The presiding officer of the Senate does not have to take the parliamentarian's advice.

However, during my 35 years at the Senate I can remember possible one instance where the presiding officer didn't take the parliamentarian's advice. They almost always do so because to ignore the parliamentarian's advice would be to severely erode a very significant norm of Senate procedure.

CUOMO: Well, what's MacDonough, the current parliamentarian -- what's the advice then on one of the main -- one of the main qualifications for reconciliation is a CBO score.

They're saying yes, we're going to go ahead. We've had plenty of CBO scores. We don't need this bill CBO-scored specifically. We'll just -- we'll move past that.

FRUMIN: Well --

CUOMO: What is she going to say about that?

FRUMIN: Well, she's going to wait for a CBO score.

The whole purpose of reconciliation is to bring about budgetary changes and you can't establish the viability of any proposals in that process without a CBO score.

So the reconciliation process is really the enemy of comprehensive -- substantive, comprehensive legislation. She needs a CBO score and she needs to be able to analyze every provision of whatever it is that's going to be proposed on the Senate floor.

And by the way, my understanding is that Graham-Cassidy will not get 90 seconds of debate. That's way too much. My understanding is that all debate time for amendments has expired unless time is granted by unanimous consent.

But, a CBO score is absolutely critical. The CBO, like the Senate parliamentarian's office, is a critical nonpartisan professional entity whose input is essential to this process.

CUOMO: But don't we have history barreling at us like a punch in the nose then when it comes to next week because they say we've got to get a vote done? McConnell says we've got to get it on the floor because we have this September 30th deadline where they'll lose the reconciliation window because of the fiscal year and they won't have a CBO score.