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Puerto Rico Begins Recovery Efforts from Devastation of Hurricane Maria; Interview with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz; FEMA Administrator on Hurricane Maria Response; Trump & North Korean Leader Trade Insults. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Because they say we have to get a vote done, McConnell says we've got to get it on the floor because we have the September 30th deadline where they'll lose the reconciliation window because of the fiscal year, and they won't have a CBO score.

ALAN FRUMIN, SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN EMERITUS: Congress is then asking these two entities to perform a super tasks in a very limited timeframe. And my sincere hope, and I know that the parliamentarian is hoping that CBO will be able to analyze as much of this measure as possible within this timeframe.

CUOMO: I know you said that you've never seen anything like this before, but that's why next week matters so much. We may all see things that we have never seen before. Alan Frumin, thank you. Thank you for the perspective and for introducing people to the existence of something they may never have heard of, the Senate parliamentarian.

FRUMIN: My pleasure.

CUOMO: We are following a lot of news. Let's get after it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rain has not stopped, flooding all throughout the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maria hit us very hard. But she is nothing compared to the force we are going to unleash to rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They continue to hear peoples' cries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I have seen quite such a mobilization of volunteers as I have seen here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not wasting time. Running out of time is our enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Graham/Cassidy bill is the right solution at the right time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst of the worst. It will hurt America.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I think we are going to get 50 Republicans. And I'll make a prediction. A couple of Democrats are going to come onboard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, September 22nd. It's 8:00 in the east. The death toll rising in Puerto Rico. The governor of the island tells CNN now at least 13 have lost their lives, more than 700 have been rescued after hurricane Maria. FEMA is beginning military aid flights to get water, food, and generators to millions of Americans in need. They have tankers filled with supplies, but the port is unopened and that island still has no power.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And then there's North Korea and the escalating rhetoric between the United States and North Korea. Mr. Trump calls Kim Jong-un rocket man. Kim then calls President Trump mentally deranged, and Mr. Trump tweets this morning that Kim is a madman. Now North Korea is threatening to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. So we have a lot to cover. Let's begin in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with CNN's Leyla Santiago showing us hurricane Maria's aftermath. Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, as people wake up this morning they are still finding roads that are not completely open because of debris like this. FEMA is sending in more relief aid that is expected to arrive into the airport this morning, and people, as they wake up, are asking the same questions they have been asking now for days -- do you have power? Do you have signal? You have reached your loved ones?

But they are facing a very grim reality. Those numbers you mentioned, at least 13 deaths confirmed by the governor, are very preliminary because there are parts of the island you cannot reach, you cannot get to. Not even the governor's office has been able to reach.

In the meantime, we are expecting more of this, more rain coming down here today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: Vast sections of Puerto Rico's northern coast underwater two days after hurricane Maria ravaged the island. These striking aerial images show the devastation as flash floods inundate the islands. Residents seen trudging through waste high floods cars driving through a sea of water as many come home to find their houses destroyed.

Search and rescue teams working around the clock to rescue survivors as heavy rain continues to fall. Maria dumping as much as 40 inches of rain in some parts of the island. MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: People that are at

home are elderly, and if we don't get to them in time, it is those that I cannot get to that really worry me the most.

SANTIAGO: The search and rescue effort complicated by a paralyzed communication system and impassable roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First priority is going to be saving of lives.

SANTIAGO: The U.S. Coast Guard capturing this dramatic rescue of a mother and her two sons after their research vessel capsized at sea during Maria's fury. The catastrophic flooding claiming at least 13 lives according to the governor.

In the town of Stravaha (ph) we watched as rescuers were going from home to home, finding anyone needing new shelter, but everyone here seems vulnerable. Sylvia Colon was fighting back tears after firefighters and the National Guard reached her 84-year-old neighbor.

[08:05:09] SVYLIA COLON, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT: She says because she's like a grandmother and she's not going to leave her.

SANTIAGO: Sixteen-year-old Marytere Santos has to cross floods to get to the rescue team. Her family of six filled bags with food, toiletries, and pillows, grabbed their small dog, and left to find help when the water got too high.

MARYTERE SANTOS, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT: I'm scared like, what is going to happen now to us? Where are we going now?

SANTIAGO: Once at the evacuation shelter, some safety. A new future ahead already filled with uncertainty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: And Alisyn, as I have talked to people on the streets I have watched as they have gone through the stages, first shock at this damage and now frustration and anger. And I get it. I have not been able to reach some of my family members. No text, no app, no phone call going through on parts of this island right now.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Leyla, what a situation. It's just as bad as we can imagine. Thank you very much for reporting for us from there. We'll check back with you.

Joining us now is the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Madam Mayor, thank you very much for being here. We know what a trying time this is for the island. What is your biggest concern this morning?

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Thank you, Alisyn, and good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to share with the world what we are going through here in Puerto Rico. The biggest concern of course is when you don't have power certain things start falling through the wayside. For example, yesterday we were canvassing several of the rural areas in San Juan, and we found elderly people that don't have their blood pressure medicine, don't have their insulin, have no food and no way of getting to it. So we have doctors coming with us. They prescribe the medication. We go and fill it in our municipal hospital. We have medication and surgical equipment for one month, pre-bought, prepaid for already in sight.

And we are still in the phase one of what we call San Juan se levantara, San Juan will stand up. And sure that we open the roads. And my biggest fear is that we don't get to those that need it. If we get to an elderly home too late, the situation of care will be disastrous, and could be disastrous. We have now today, in the process, either personally or via phone we're very fortunate in San Juan. Some of the communications via telephone, especially text, are still up and running. So we want to make sure that we reach all of them.

We also want to make sure that we get an additional powerful generator we got for our hospital, and we have to -- one of our medical facilities, we have nine altogether in San Juan plus the hospital. Four of them are working at full capacity. The next five will be working next week. So we want to make sure that we tend to the sick.

But much needed help came yesterday. I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio and speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. These two pins that I am wearing are from the New York Fire Department, and they gave me this angel and they told me now you have angels here getting your back. So we want to thank all the help from Virginia and from Houston and from New York City.

This is a time for solidarity and for common purposes. And we're going to have to rebuild. We're going to have to reconstruct. But what I am seeing on the streets, besides the pain and the horror and the terrific devastation, it's an overzealous belief that we are going to make it. Just when I came up here, some of the security from the hotel told me, mayor, just tell the world that we are standing and that we are going to come out of this.

So that is the type of resilience, of help. People are starting to get desperate because we know the diesel isn't going to last forever. Gas stations are packed with people who have to be in lines for hours. But we are canvassing. And now with more troops on the ground, with people that came from New York city to San Juan, they brought a satellite phone with them.

[08:10:04] You have no idea how important it is to not feel alone and know that there are resources available. People that came from Houston, with the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now have left Houston to come to us, this is what solidarity is all about and this is what solidarity looks like.

And as a mayor, but as a Puerto Rican, I am very thankful for all the FEMA workers down here. We had a very good meeting last night. It took about an hour and a half just talking about the intel that they have and what we have. And today joint teams are going to come out to start on their side canvassing and on our side continuing the very tedious job of opening the roads and making sure that we get to everybody. My biggest concern is that time will run out on some people.

CAMEROTA: Mayor, I mean, it's possible that that is going to happen because it's just there are so many remote areas, I don't have to tell you, and it's so hard to communicate with people. It's beautiful to see the angel on your shirt, but how are you going to get to people in time?

CRUZ: We're going to work, and we have been working literally 20, 22 hours a day. We are dispatching everyone. Everyone that has the capability of movement, really, we are dispatching. We have about 1,000 workers from the municipality. We started with a small team, 200 of them, but once their families are OK, they are coming into work, their commitment has been exceptional. And we are just going to work, work, work, and do the best we can.

And with this additional about 250 people, that's going to make a world of a difference. And we just have to take it one day at a time. We have a plan. It is structured. We have at least a municipality and enough supplies, diesel, gas, water, ice, which is a great commodity nowadays, food, medical supplies, and prescriptions for one month. And we will share as much as we can share. If one has to eat a little less so your neighbor eats a little, that's what we are going to do, and that's what we are seeing all over San Juan.

There's a second concern which is what are we going to do with what I'm calling the urban refugees, people that have homes, the structure is fine, but you have no power, you have no running water, you have no drinking water, you have no medication. And we're in the process, and FEMA workers have already started working with us of identifying large parts and lots of land that are owned by the municipality to sort of establish, we're going to call them hope-villes so that we can house all of those that cannot go home and won't be able to go home. What the government is telling us is that it will be four to six months before the power goes up. Of course it will go up in all of those critical areas like hospitals.

And San Juan is going to come out of this and hopefully will be able to then help other municipalities come out of the terrible horror that we are living in the place we call our home.

CAMEROTA: I know. Mayor, we feel for you and we hear your emotion, we know how heartbreaking this is for everyone down there. We know yesterday you went to an orphanage and held little kids there, and how special that was. And you are just worried about the youngest and, of course, the elderly today. And we do hope you can make it to them on time.

CRUZ: I got an SOS text. Thank you. I got an SOS from that elderly orphanage, and it was a text like from a horror movie. It said if anybody can hear us, please, we are stuck here and we can't get out, and we have no power and we have very little water left. So we got there just in time. The FEMA workers that came from New York and from Houston joined us there. It was a very touching moment.

If I can save one life, that would be good enough, but I have too many to save. So, you know, when danger is upon the streets of my city, we will work as hard as we can. And I said something yesterday and I'm going to repeat it.

[08:15:02] Maria was very hard on us. It will be nothing compared to the power of the human spirit that will be unleashed to rebuild this city and to rebuild this country.

And we thank you so much for letting the world know as the security guard asked me to tell you, we are here. We are standing. We are fighting and we are going to overcome whatever Maria threw our way.

CAMEROTA: We hear it and we see it, Mayor. Thank you very much. Obviously, everybody is pulling and praying for you.

Mayor Yulin, thank you for being with us.

Chris?

CUOMO: So, we go from the need to the response to that need.

FEMA and other federal agencies are now deploying thousands of personnel. They had thousands in place before the storm in Puerto Rico.

Joining us now is FEMA administrator, Brock Long.

Brock, it's good to see you. You say today is an important day. Why?

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: I think today's the most important day when it comes to the response because as the mayor was talking about, we already have a pretty solid presence on the island but we have a long way to go.

So, what we are trying to do is get the seaports open, and we are already utilizing airports to be able to get basically lifesaving, life-sustaining commodities in place. We also have additional teams to come on top of what the good mayor was talking about.

So, today, it's all about life-saving, establishing emergency power for the infrastructure, such as hospitals. We're also going to be doing some life flights, you know, not only out of Puerto Rico, but also the Virgin Islands, out of St. Croix, to move people to the continental United States. We're going to be trying to also push forward emergency communications to make sure that we have solid communications throughout the response.

Today is about stabilizing the situation. That's what we are focused on.

CUOMO: Reconnaissance before recovery. I hear that from the first responders all the time.

How close are you to having your hands around what the situation is in terms of what it will take to get power on and what the human costs really is from that island?

LONG: Yes, I don't know what the human cost is right now. Obviously, without communications -- with communications being down, it's tough for us to have an accurate understanding of what awareness is.

I do know over -- last night, over 80 rescues were made by FEMA search and rescue teams in conjunction with our partners at the United States Coast Guard. The number is going to go up, you know, as we try to flood the islands and get more resources there. The numbers are moving targets right now. We will get better situational awareness as the day goes on and the storm elements have passed.

CUOMO: The airport being open is huge. The ports being open arguably just as huge because you have those tankers and major vessels that can carry so much heavy equipment. How involved is it to open the port?

LONG: Well, right now, we are working with our partners at NOAA, as well as the Coast Guards. So, they're doing rapid assessments of the port, and what we're trying to do is not open it up for everybody. It will be first for life-saving commodity shipments coming in. We have multiple ships sitting offshore, close by, with over millions of meals, millions of liters of water. You know, one of the ships has 31 generators sitting on it, ready to go to establish emergency power, you know? And we are going to focus on getting the 911 centers and hospitals and critical facilities back up as quickly as we can.

CUOMO: So, as we just saw with the major, you know, the level of desperation is high. And really, the clock just started a couple days ago.

What is your message to people there who are living in the worst of conditions and they fear that it's not going to get better anytime soon?

LONG: Well, we're going to be working very closely with Governor Rossello. And the bottom line is, is that the governor sets the response and the recovery goals, and we are going to be standing by him and the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Governor Mapp as well to help them achieve those goals.

You know, we don't want to see anybody fail. We will work as rapidly as we can to help them out. But this is going to be a marathon. You know, the power grids in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are incredibly fragile and we realize that, and it's going -- but what we establish at FEMA is the emergency power. As far as rebuilding the grid, that's going to be highly involved. The western area of power authority working in conjunction with local municipalities to be able to bring the grid back up.

CUOMO: And it may cost more money, but you have been making a point all along, from Harvey, Irma, Jose and now, Maria, you said you've got to pay attention to the standards. You've got to pay attention to the codes. You've got to rebuild better, that's not just political speak, you have to be better prepared for what these storms can do.

This is an opportunity. We'll see if the government's take it.

Brock, thank you very much. We know you have your hands full as the administrator of FEMA right now.

[08:20:02] Let us know how to help.

LONG: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK. To North Korea, the insults are flying and a nuclear showdown is brewing. So, we will speak to the State Department about the escalating rhetoric with North Korea and the plan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will continue our efforts in the diplomatic arena but all the military options, as the president has said, is on the table. And once we can assess the nature of this threat, the president will make a decision regarding the appropriate actions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: That was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not ruling out a military option on North Korea. This is North Korea's Kim Jong-un and President Trump continue to trade barbs.

Kim said this about Mr. Trump. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country and he is surely a rogue and gangster, fond of playing with fire rather than a politician. I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.

Not a word I say often.

Joining us now to discuss that and more is State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

Heather, great to see you.

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Hi, Alisyn. Great to see you.

CAMEROTA: So, what happens at the State Department? When you hear Kim Jong-un start to use language like that, when he starts to say mentally deranged and senile and a gangster, do you take those things seriously?

NAUERT: Look, I think our pressure campaign, the economic pressure campaign is having an effect. We are seeing him lash out in this fashion.

We have taken on this policy. It was the top thing that the president asked Rex Tillerson to do at the beginning of the administration, have --

CAMEROTA: Which deal with North Korea.

NAUERT: -- deal with North Korea, implement this peaceful pressure campaign, which means economic sanctions. We've seen that not only at the U.N., through U.N. Security Council resolutions, two unanimous ones within the past few weeks, cracking down on North Korea's economy.

But also, we are having conversations with many of our allies and partners around the world in the most farfetched countries you would ever think of, asking them to assist us and they are onboard.

CAMEROTA: And how do you know those are having an effect?

NAUERT: Well, because you start to see the headlines, and they are often buried, but about countries that are kicking out North Korean guest workers. They are basically slave workers who are working in those countries, in South America, Mexico kicked out its ambassador from North Korea. So, these things are happening all around the world, they just don't make a lot of headlines.

And so, we're having success. We're having an impact. Kim Jong-un is feeling that impact.

[08:25:02] CAMEROTA: And when President Trump calls him, say, a mad man --

NAUERT: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- is that part of a strategy?

NAUERT: Well, I think it's -- I think it's speaking in a fashion that Americans understand, right? The president is clear in his speaking. And in the United States, that's something that we understand and get, it's a direct style.

CAMEROTA: But is it upping the ante rhetorically to some end?

NAUERT: I think what the president is doing is making clear our displeasure. And it's not just the United States' displeasure, it's the entire world with these illegal, nuclear and ballistic tests. You know, Japan, South Korea, how concern would you be about all of this activity that Kim Jong-un is responsible for? We have their backs but we're making it clear this is our top national security priority.

CAMEROTA: And so, if Kim Jong-un test, was he's threatening to do, a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, what will the U.S. do?

NAUERT: Well, I think the secretary was clear about it this morning, when he spoke and said that that would ultimately be the president's decision. We have a lot of options on the table. Obviously, we have the military option. That gets a lot of attention in the media because it seems far more interesting to many people.

But the diplomatic strategy is the preferred approach. Secretary of Defense James Mattis talks a lot about that, too. Diplomacy is the preferred approach. And we are pushing forward with that every single day.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I think that the military option gets a lot of attention in the media because it's scary.

NAUERT: Right.

CAMEROTA: It's so scary, the idea of sort of mutual destruction.

NAUERT: And no one wants that. No one wants that. That's why we are working so hard with our counterparts, with our allies, with our friend, even some countries you think we might not be working with on this, Russia, China, they're all on board. We want the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we've been clear about that and it's starting to have an affect.

CAMEROTA: But if North Korea were to do -- to drop a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, would diplomacy be the next step, the U.S.'s step?

NAUERT: You know, I'm not going to get ahead of anything that the president would decide. He has a terrific national security team. They meet frequently on this. Ultimately, though, that would be a decision coming out of the White House.

CAMEROTA: Do you think the president is open to direct talks with North Korea?

NAUERT: We have said that we would be open to talks with North Korea. We have said that repeatedly, but Kim Jong-un is showing no sign of seriousness about sitting down and having talks.

We will talk. The conditions have to be right. The conditions are not right when he is shooting off ballistic missiles and conducting various nuclear tests.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the Iran deal.

NAUERT: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Is it your sense of the State Department that the president, when he reveals his decision, that the U.S. will be getting out of this deal?

NAUERT: You know, I'm not going to get ahead of the president. We have an overall policy review of the Iran nuclear deal. The JCPOA which just deals with the small, well, not small, but just deals with nuclear provision.

But this administration is looking at the totality of Iran's bad activities. We have seen them go after U.S. service members, kill U.S. service members in Iraq. We have seen Iran's support Hezbollah, Iran responsible for near famine in Yemen. Iran is involved with terrible things --

CAMEROTA: Horrible.

NAUERT: -- around the world. This administration wants to look at the totality of the bad things that Iran does.

CAMEROTA: I mean, though none of those things were part of the Iran deal.

NAUERT: Those were not part of the Iran deal, and that's why they want to take an overall look at the bigger picture of Iran.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, as recently as July, the State Department certified Iran was within the deal.

NAUERT: Technically compliance regarding the nuclear components. But the administration looks at all the bad activities of Iran, all the destabilizing activities, the harassment of our U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf, funding militias, making things worse in Syria, and we look at all that --

CAMEROTA: So, then, how about we make --

NAUERT: -- and when we look at all that let's make that part of the comprehensive strategy with Iran.

CAMEROTA: So, maybe an addendum? Maybe a new deal? Not going to blowing up that original deal --

(CROSSTALK)

NAUERT: There's a lot of conversations being had, especially this week here at the United Nations. Secretary Tillerson has been meeting with his counterparts who are all part of this, who are part of the original Iran nuclear deal, and having those conversations with them to sort of widen the scope of our policy.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about Russia for a second.

NAUERT: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is addressing this head on. He's turning over documents now to Congress to show that Russia did have the troll farms and had fake accounts and tried to gin up all sorts of outrage on Facebook. So, he's going to comply and help try to shut all that down.

The president this morning tweeted, this Russia stuff is a hoax.

So, where is the State Department on this?

NAUERT: Well, the State Department doesn't get involved in that particular issue, per se, but we will call out Russia for its activities.

CAMEROTA: The State Department doesn't believe it's a hoax?

NAUERT: Look, does believe what's a hoax?

CAMEROTA: Does not believe that Russia's meddling is a hoax.