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Health Care Battle; Puerto Rico's Governor Calls For Greater Federal Response; NFL Players United Against Trump; Trump: North Korea Leaders "Won't Be Around Much Longer." Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:31:32] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: There is a new version of the GOP's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

This morning, the revisions of the Graham-Cassidy bill to give more funding to Alaska and Maine, those will get a hearing because senators there are still holding out support. So the first and only hearing on this issue will be held a few hours from now.

And that's where Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon will be. He is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OREGON), RANKING MEMBER, FINANCE COMMITTEE, MEMBER, SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: I can't hear you. Can you guys hear me?

WYDEN: Can you hear me now?

CAMEROTA: Oh, then I can, perfect. Thank you, Senator.

Why have there have not been more hearings on this issue?

WYDEN: You'll have to ask the Senate Republican leadership, but it just doesn't pass the smell test.

When you're talking about 300 million Americans, one-sixth of the economy -- and the reality is the Senate is legislating in the dark. And right now, the Senate Republican leadership has embarked on a frenzy of special dealmaking and elbow-twisting.

In the middle of the night, apparently, they made some revisions in their bill but the bottom line is still the same. They're trying to defend the indefensible, which is making so many vulnerable Americans pay more to get less coverage.

CAMEROTA: But, so those revisions in the middle of the night, as you describe it, those are sweeteners, right, given to the senators who are holdouts, such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine. They'll be getting more dollars for their state.

Do you think that that will help tip them over into the yes column?

WYDEN: I hope not. I mean, this whole idea of trying to pass a health care bill which is about holding down premiums and protecting our people and turning it into some kind of pork parade where you just give out huge, big slabs of pork in order to try -- to try win a vote, that's not how you make health policy. The way you make health policy is to do it in a bipartisan way.

One of the reasons I'm so opposed to what the Senate Republicans are doing is beyond hurting people now. We've got a bipartisan bill ready to go that would help nine million kids. Senator Orrin Hatch, myself -- a big group of people on both sides on the aisle are saying let's not miss the fact that that funding runs out at the end of this week.

And, instead, what the Senate Republicans are trying to do is, as my 9-year-old would say, is tried out a big bunch of whoppers to sell this indefensible bill.

CAMEROTA: Well look, I mean, I don't have to remind you the Democrats didn't do Obamacare in a bipartisan way and that seems to be what Sen. John McCain's issue with this current bill is. I mean, he doesn't think that it should be rushed through with just Republicans and cutting out all Democrats, and done during reconciliation and all of that stuff.

Do you think that your hearing today will go any steps towards getting him on board?

WYDEN: I think Sen. McCain, obviously, has made it clear that he doesn't like this process.

And just with respect to a little bit of history, I sat on the Senate Finance Committee when we considered the Affordable Care Act and we took Republican amendments. We had scores of meetings, and forums, and opportunities for both sides to be heard. The bottom line is, on the Affordable Care Act we took Republican amendments on the Senate Finance Committee.

[07:35:05] CAMEROTA: OK, that's a good reminder.

Lindsey Graham, who was one of the authors of this, and John McCain are famously fast friends, right? Everybody knows that.

Do you think that this is -- I mean, what's it like behind the scenes there that John McCain is one of the no, most vocal voices on this bill that his best friend is pushing?

WYDEN: Well, both of them have said that they're going to make decisions -- and John McCain always has -- Lindsey Graham has said that -- on the basis of principle. And what John McCain essentially said is the principle of making sure that you at least try to find some common ground is more important to him than his friendship with Lindsey Graham.

And you can only commend him for saying that he's going that because that's what public service is supposed to be all about. CAMEROTA: So what's going to happen at this hearing? I mean, is this going to move the needle this afternoon?

WYDEN: We're going to hear these Republican senators, for example, talk about how what they're doing really doesn't hurt people. But every single major health group -- every single one, Alisyn, says it does.

And as far as I can tell, the latest draft actually weakens key protections for people who have preexisting conditions. You weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions and you basically take America back to the days when health care was for the health and wealthy. And on the Finance Committee, the Democrats are going to do everything we can to block that.

CAMEROTA: OK. Senator Ron Wyden, we will look forward to hearing what comes out of today's only hearing --

WYDEN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- on this.

Thank you very much for being with us.

Be sure to join us tonight because senators Bernie Sander and Amy Klobuchar are going to debate senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy on health care, and they're going to take questions. So that's tonight at 9:00 eastern only on CNN -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Alisyn.

Another emergency unfolding in Puerto Rico. Tens of thousands living near a failing dam being told to leave their homes. The governor tell us what he needs from Washington, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:41:10] BERMAN: Puerto Rico is still without power nearly a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

This morning, officials are telling 70,000 people to leave their homes as a cracked dam is in danger of failing.

Joining me now, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello. Governor, thank you so much for being with us.

Let's start with this dam. There is great concern for those 70,000 people. What's the very latest?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: Well, on Friday, I went immediately to the dam to assess the damage. We didn't have communication with that area of Puerto Rico so I had to go with the National Guard and police and make sure we evacuated people.

You know, there was a critical infrastructure failure. Some of the dam has fallen apart and now we're making sure that we can assess if the other part is going to fall down as well because it represents a great danger for about an estimated 7,000 -- 70,000 people.

BERMAN: Do you think it's at risk of failing right now?

ROSSELLO: Well, I have to assume so. I don't have all the details but my action has been to order evacuation. I'd rather be wrong on that front than doing nothing and having it fail and costly people life -- people's lives.

BERMAN: Have the -- have the people evacuated? It's 70,000 in its path. Are they all out of harm's way?

ROSSELLO: Most of the people in the near vicinity have evacuated. There is still efforts doing on the peripheral of sides of and we're making sure that we can make the proper mitigation efforts within that dam so that we can prevent this dam from falling apart.

BERMAN: So it's a very difficult situation we know, in Puerto Rico, but you have been able to achieve some successes over the last week or so.

I understand you have now made contact with all the communities in Puerto Rico. Is that the case?

ROSSELLO: We've made contact with all of the municipalities. We've actually had the mayors -- most of the mayors come to San Juan to our joint center of operations.

We've established runners all around Puerto Rico to go to those areas where we don't have telecoms or radio so that we can get information.

We've established routes so that we can deliver food, water to these homes so that things can keep on moving.

We've energized the main hospital in Puerto Rico and given fuel to those other alternate hospitals around the island.

We've opened the ports so that we can get more resources to Puerto Rico.

And a lot of people -- and I want to thank them -- are giving us aid within the United States and everywhere else.

The phone number to assist 202-800-3133. Many people want to volunteer or give donations. That's the phone call they should call.

BERMAN: Communications -- I understand power is still basically out to the whole island. What about communication -- cell service?

ROSSELLO: It is -- it is critically limited right now. Essentially, only the metropolitan area has infrastructures but we're getting -- we're getting better. We have reestablished growth through the northern and eastern part of the island, but still there are some areas that are not going communicating.

And our priority is to get to those antennas. Apparently, the antenna infrastructure hasn't been severely hampered. Get some generators and make sure that we can get fuel to them and start establishing communication quickly.

BERMAN: You know, it's not just a matter of convenience. Obviously, communication is vital to getting aid to the places it needs to get, so I know why that is a priority.

ROSSELLO: It is a priority.

BERMAN: How about the federal government right now? What do you want to see from the administration and from Congress?

ROSSELLO: Well, let me take this opportunity to just say that we need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America. Puerto Rico is part of the United States and we need to take swift action.

So, you know, I want to thank Congress and congressmen, congresswomen, and the administration for their solidarity and aid to this point, but we need to take action on an aid package for Puerto Rico.

[07:45:06] Let me tell you a few of the important components you need to consider.

Number one, we are U.S. citizens and proud U.S. citizens here in Puerto Rico. So much so that after Irma, we served as the incident support base of the whole region where we rescued over 3,500 U.S. citizens from different islands in different parts of the Caribbean.

Number two, the magnitude of this hurricane and the two hurricanes that we've passed, it's unprecedented. This is a major disaster that has had major ramifications across Puerto Rico.

Number three, we have a fiscal crisis already in our hands and this need to be taken into consideration.

So my ask to Congress is the following.

The quantity needs to be consistent. The quantity that's on the aid pack, it needs to be consistent with the damages.

Number two, we need to make sure that there is flexibility because Puerto Rico cannot operate if there is no flexibility on this funding.

And number three, we need to get financing, whether through the Treasury or through the Fed so that Puerto Rico can operate.

And let me tell you something. Puerto Rico had already started doing their part. I was embarking on a very aggressive fiscal agenda. We have reduced -- cut over $1.5 billion in our budget. We started reducing agencies, making the changes we have to ensue.

But now, this is a game changer. This is a completely different set of circumstances and this needs to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, there will be a humanitarian crisis.

BERMAN: Right.

ROSSELLO: There will be a massive exodus to the United States. So I call upon Congress to take action to make their wishes -- their -- you know, their solidarity of this moment be something tangible. That it's a bill that actually answers to our --

BERMAN: Right.

ROSSELLO: -- needs right now.

BERMAN: You know, Gov. Ricardo Rossello, thank you so much for your time. We wish you the best of luck.

The country needs to focus on this opposed to some other things that there's been a lot of discussion about the last few days. I do appreciate your time, sir.

ROSSELLO: Thank you. Thank you so much and thank you for your prayers and thoughts.

BERMAN: Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: All right. Hurricane Maria is still churning in the Atlantic and it's leading to trouble in the Carolinas.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has the forecast. Where is it, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEORLOGIST: Right now -- yes, thank you, Alisyn. Right now, it just due east of say about Savannah, Georgia, and it's making its way to the north at about seven miles per hour.

Sustained winds are 80 miles per hour at this point. As it pushes north it's going to start to have some impacts for the North Carolina coast, so we have tropical storm watches and tropical storm warnings out for the eastern coast of North Carolina.

The good news is it is expected to stay weak. We don't expect any more intensification as it goes to the north.

But then, it's going to start to veer out towards the east because it's going to come into some blocking mechanisms. This is good news. This prevents it from getting too close to the U.S. to actually have a direct landfall.

We are still expecting to have impacts, however, John. Most of those will be incredibly dangerous rip currents, storm surge of two to four feet, as well as the potential for some tropical storm-force winds along the coast.

BERMAN: All right, Allison. I'll take it. Thank you so much.

The president, this morning, writing a lot about the NFL and its players kneeling during the National Anthem. This is what he wrote just a few minutes ago.

"Many people booed the players who kneeled yesterday (which was a small percentage of total). These are fans who demand respect for our flag." And the president, once again, is insisting that this issue has nothing to do with race.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John.

You know, it was clear that players on pretty much every team had a plan of how they were going to show that they were unified after President Trump's comments over the weekend.

Some players decided to take a knee, some sat on the bench, and many locked arms during the National Anthem.

And for the first time, we saw owners from teams around the league, some who donated to President Trump's campaign, standing arm-in-arm with their players during the Anthem, showing that they had their backs.

After the games, players around the league explaining why they decided to do a show of unity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIUS PEPPERS, CAROLINA PANTHERS: I felt like he attacked my brothers -- my brothers in the league, so I thought it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room.

JOSH NORMA, WASHINGTON REDSKINS: You mess with one, you mess with us all. Don't nobody dividing us. We was in unity.

We wanted to stand for something. We're standing right now. This man's not welcome here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: And the Steelers, Titans, and Seahawks all decided to remain in the locker room during the National Anthem yesterday, Alisyn. We reached out to the NFL and they said they are not planning any fines or punishment for those teams that did not come out for the Anthem.

CAMEROTA: Look, the debate continues this morning. I mean, the president is tweeting about it so it is not going away.

Andy, thank you very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

CAMEROTA: -- for the update.

Is President Trump's nickname for Kim Jong Un dangerous? Up next, we'll hear from the former Energy secretary about why he fears a misunderstanding could lead to nuclear catastrophe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:54:07] CAMEROTA: President Trump threatening that North Korean leaders quote "won't be around much longer" end quote, after North Korea's foreign minister told the U.N. that firing rockets at the U.S. state's mainland is quote "inevitable."

Joining us now to talk about all of this is Ernest Moniz. He's the former Energy secretary under President Obama and now, the CEO and co- chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Secretary Moniz, thank you very much for being here.

When you say that you feel that the threat of a misunderstanding leading to some sort of nuclear showdown is higher today than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis, what are you basing that on?

ERNEST MONIZ, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF ENERGY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA, CEO AND CO-CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: Well, I think we see in North Korea and, by the way, elsewhere in the world the risk of a miscalculation. It could be through the escalation of taunts, it could be through our militaries of the United States and other countries coming together.

[07:55:09] Look, the fundamental issue is we need diplomacy. Diplomacy has to come to the fore, whether it's dealing with Iran or North Korea or Russia. In all of these cases we need to have serious discussion.

We need to work with our allies, certainly in North Korea. We need to work with our allies in South Korea and Japan and with China to understand what is a general framework that will satisfy all of our security needs.

BERMAN: When you hear the president call Kim Jong Un "Little Rocket Man" how will that impact possible diplomacy?

MONIZ: Well again, that's the kind of thing that could lead to unintended escalation. Certainly, the North Korean leader, we know, is very concerned about the survival of the regime. There's no substitute for diplomacy.

Now with China, for example, we need to really have a serious framework discussion. Part of it is their responsibility to implement sanctions that they have voted for. But as you know, China also very much wants us to have at least discussions with North Korea.

So I think it starts, again, with discussions with China, with South Korea and Japan. Get us a general framework that will allow us to engage North Korea to remove the very real threats that they represent to our allies and friends and, of course, to the United States.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Mr. Moniz, did you think it was significant last week when it was announced that China's Central Bank was telling its smaller banks not to do transactions with North Korea?

MONIZ: Yes. Again, China really needs to enforce all of the sanctions that have -- that they, themselves, have voted for. And so, whether it's addressing banking, the cash flows, sales of commodities to and from North Korea, all of those must be enforced.

There are other actions that could be taken as well in terms of understanding maritime traffic into and out of North Korea.

Again, it's a foundation that sanctions must be enforced, but so is the foundation of having a discussion of all of the security issues, some of which, frankly, the United States has not wanted to discuss -- military exercises and the like.

I think we need to have all of this on the table for a serious discussion that will be consistent with at least a longer term denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

MONIZ: But number one, we need to talk, we need to freeze the program. We need to, over time, works towards that denuclearization.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: Mr. Secretary, you were part of the negotiations for the Iran Nuclear Deal. Last week, before the United Nations, the president said the U.S. should be embarrassed by that deal. I'm wondering what your reaction was when you heard that?

MONIZ: Well, once again, inflammatory language does not substitute for diplomacy.

Let's make it very clear. The Iran agreement, first of all, is a very strong agreement. Certainly, our European allies have been very clear about that.

It accomplished what would not have been accomplished through other means, namely making it very clear that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.

I might say that the deal also has unprecedented verification measures and it also contains a direct commitment from Iran that they will never have a nuclear weapon.

But diplomacy there really has given us great strides in terms of removing that existential threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran. But, of course, we have many other issues with Iran.

And the president, just like President Obama, is quite correct to work with our allies -- the Gulf countries, Israel -- to, in fact, push back on other elements of Iran's behavior in the region that we believe is quite destabilizing and, frankly, support for groups like Hezbollah, which is fundamentally unacceptable. So we need to push across the board.

But let me just link also the two issues we've talked about.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

MONIZ: Certainly, if the -- if the administration chooses not to certify Iran's compliance when the international inspectors say they are complying, that will just be one more step in undercutting the United States reliability in the eyes of our friends and allies, in the eyes of our adversaries for, in particular, why would North Korea or others engage us in discussion if we -- if we do not show --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

MONIZ: -- our intention to honor agreements that we have reached.

CAMEROTA: Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, thank you very much for your expertise.

MONIZ: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We are following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX RYAN, FORMER NFL HEAD COACH: I'm pissed off. I supported Donald Trump and it's appalling to me.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a bitch off the field?