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Trump And Bannon On Opposing Sides In Key Race; Voters Hit Polls In Senate Race Pitting Trump Versus Bannon; Senator Collins' "No" Vote Likely Ends Latest Repeal Effort; Source: Trump "Satisfied" With NFL Anthem Flap; Trump on Puerto Rico Crisis; Trump Intensifies Feud with NFL Players; Trump Backs Strange; Equifax CEO Steps Down. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You're just so handsome that sometimes we steal a look when we can.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I was like wowza (ph).

CUOMO: Fetching.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's blinding. It's blinding.

All right, a lot of news. Let's get to it, folks.

Hello, everyone. John Berman here.

The president of the United States woke up this morning with 3.5 million Americans suffering a humanitarian catastrophe in Puerto Rico, North Korea moving military equipment to attack posture, and the Republican health care bill in tatters. Now, facing those urgent challenges, what was the subject of his very first message today to the country and the world? Television ratings. Ratings for NFL football are way down except before a game starts when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected. That is what President Trump wrote, football ratings.

You know where they didn't watch much football this weekend, Puerto Rico. They don't have power, water, communications. To be fair, after days of not mentioning Puerto Rico on social media in deference to the football fixation, the president did write about it last night. Texas and Florida are doing great, but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure and massive debt, is in deep trouble. Deep trouble. It's a safe bet the Americans of Puerto Rico already know that. What they want to know now is what the administration is going to do about it.

CNN's Joe Johns at the White House with the events this morning.



The mayor of San Juan was asked this morning on "NEW DAY" about the president's tweets and she responded in part that when there's a humanitarian crisis, when there's a life or death situation, there's a moral imperative to deal with that. And she also indicated that in her view the situation on the ground there in Puerto Rico and the debt crisis in Puerto Rico are very different things. Take a listen to part of what she said.


MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: These are two different topics. One topic is the massive debt, which we know we have and it's been dealt with. But you don't put debt above people. You put people above debt.


JOHNS: The president tweeted this morning thanking the mayor of San Juan for her kind words, he wrote, on FEMA, et cetera. We're working hard. Much food and water there, slash, on the way.

But at least part of this is about the president's Twitter account and the other things he's been tweeting about besides Puerto Rico leading to the question of whether he's paying adequate attention to the situation on the ground there.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said that the president certainly can do more than one thing while he's in the Oval Office. Also indicating in part that the white House response has been good. She says the government's handling of the situation in Puerto Rico has been anything but slow. In fact, there's been an unprecedented push through of billions of dollars of federal assistance that the administration has fought for.

So we do expect the president to meet with his homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, this morning to talk about Puerto Rico. Bossert was just there on the island yesterday. Later today, we expect the president to take a couple questions in a news conference when he meets with the president of Spain.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. We'll be watching that very closely.

Joining me now, Margaret Hoover, Alice Stewart, Shemichael Singleton, CNN political communicators, Republican strategists, all, though, from slightly different perfectives.

Margaret, I want to start with you. You know, tweets about NFL ratings and kneeling this morning, 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico suffering. The NFL ratings game and kneeling, is this a good use of the president's time this morning?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: John, I'll answer that question first by telling you my background with respect to catastrophic floods in this country was last working for George W. Bush in the White House during Katrina. All right, I worked in the mayors and county officials office. We dealt with a county tragedy and emergency and so we were dealing with it hands on.

The amount of blowback and I think really unfair criticism, frankly, because George W. Bush took seven trips down to the Gulf Coast in the immediacy after Katrina and Rita, and he got very unfair blowback, I think, for not being sufficiently caring about the people who were facing calamity in their lives.

It is shocking to me that the president would act this way when we truly have -- and with this Guajataca Dam that is facing complete devastation, 70,000 people are in -- I mean it is shocking to me that the president -- just looking at recent history, knowing that politics is perception if nothing else, focusing fully your administration on a catastrophe at hand is critical for making sure that all of the resources get there. Not just the resources of the government, but of the country. The voluntary efforts. All of the humanitarian support that can come from mediating institutions in our democracy. All should be -- and the press and the media all should be focused on Puerto Rico. And the president can help set that focus by himself focusing solely on what is necessary of the people in Puerto Rico. That's not happening here.

[09:05:24] Shemichael, what do you see? Do you see the president focused as much as he needs to be on Puerto Rico?

SHEMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, you know, I don't. And being -- originally being from New Orleans, I had a lot of family members that were actually impacted by Katrina. And under the ordinary set of circumstances, I would probably say this would be the quote/unquote Katrina moment for Donald Trump. But, unfortunately, I'm not certain there's much of anything that would push his base against him.

But if I could, you know, just comment, John, a little bit on the president and this NFL issue.

You know, what bothers me and what I think is very troubling is that we're not having a holistic and robust conversation about this issue. The fundamental purpose of this quote/unquote protest was to raise issue about police brutality, criminal justice reform.

And so if we're going to talk about those things, we have to remove I guess these sort of wedged issues about protesting against the flag, which is not about that, but that is where the conversation has gone to. And I think the expectation is that the president is a part of this process. But the president isn't the only way.

There have been other moments in time throughout the history of our country where we have faced many, many troubling situations. And sometimes a president wasn't looking back historically on the right side of those issues. But the country by in part together moved forward without.

And I think this is another one of those instances where the expectation can no longer be on the president to bring the country together, to unite the country because, look, at the end of the day, John, I think we really have to begin to listen to each other. If I'm an African-American and there's somebody from rural Ohio and they're talking to me about the opioid crisis or about the rust belt, I may not be able to immediately identify with the situation, but does that not mean I have empathy for them. Does that not mean I listen and care about their concern?

And so I think for a lot of African-Americans, the point that many are raising is, these are issues that we perceive are very troubling. Awe just want the opportunity to discuss these issues and try to find a way to remedy the problem.

BERMAN: And, look, and if you're an African-American player kneeling, does the president calling you a son of a bitch make that dialogue easier? You know, I understand what you're saying there, Shemichael.

Alice, someone who was with the president last night -- the president dined with conservative leaders at the White House -- essentially said the president is as pleased as punch with the response that his reaction to the firestorm. The exact quote was, you could tell he was pleased. Should the president be pleased this morning?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I -- look, I don't think so because I -- while I agree in principle with the substance of what he's saying, I don't agree with the style and the language that he's used. I support his freedom to say what he wants to say about the NFL and its players. However, I have a problem with the frequency of it. And I think the NFL players do have the freedom to take a knee, but if this is truly about social injustice, where were the guys taking a knee when their own players were charged with domestic violence? Where there are charges of DUI? Where there are charges of battery? Where there are homicides? That's social injustice. Where was the knee then?

But as we can all agree, I think the number one priority right now is to shift the focus on the needs of the people in Puerto Rico.

BERMAN: Right.

STEWART: And the tremendous damage and devastation there that they will face for years.

I do think it's important, while the president has tweeted ad nauseam about the NFL and what's going on there on the football field, it's important to know what the administration is doing behind the scenes with regard to Puerto Rico. He did sign a federal disaster declaration back last Wednesday. We have hundreds of FEMA officials on the ground in Puerto Rico. Millions of meals, millions of liters of water being distributed to the people there. We have the Coast Guard down there setting up communications command to help with communications. The Crops of Engineers helping with debris removal.

So I do think while there's so much focus on what's going on with the NFL, I think it's important for us to also keep in mind the administration is doing a lot behind the scenes to help those people in Puerto Rico that are dealing with the devastating loss that they're suffering there.

BERMAN: You know, politics is perception, as Margaret Hoover was just saying there, Alice, and it's an interesting point because, again, the president just writing on Twitter once again this morning, I'm not going to read it out loud because it doesn't add to the discussion at all about the NFL and not Puerto Rico.

To be fair, the mayor of San Juan, who was on "NEW DAY" this morning, did point out that she was very appreciative of the FEMA presence right now in San Juan.

Margaret, it's interesting, these disasters, you were talking about Katrina, the federal government -- you know, FEMA is there to coordinate. There aren't hundreds of thousands of FEMA personnel.

HOOVER: Right.

BERMAN: Right?

HOOVER: That's right.

BERMAN: They coordinate the response from all others.

HOOVER: Right.

BERMAN: The people in Puerto Rico now are suffering immeasurably. They just want help. They don't want this to be politics at all. And the president, who said they're in deep trouble and he started talking about their debt, started talking about the infrastructure that was already in place. That's not a solution looking forward.

[09:10:16] HOOVER: Not only is it not a solution looking forward. It the immediacy, John, it actually is important that the president's literal focus, the Twitter focus, the words he says on television, the words he says to the press, actually are about Puerto Rico, because it's not just the federal government who needs to respond to Puerto Rico, all right? We have hundreds of humanitarian organizations and non-profits in this country that can focus. But if the American's people attention isn't on it because the president's attention isn't on it, because the media's attention isn't on it, then the people of Puerto Rico suffer. It really helps to have tone coming from the top in this situation of a national catastrophe like you have in Puerto Rico.

BERMAN: Again, and we were talking about this is all happening in spite of Puerto Rico, in spite of North Korea posturing, in spite of the health care bill going down, or maybe because of it. Maybe he is focused on this because all those things are happening and he wants to draw attention away from it all.

One other thing happening today is this run-off election in Alabama. You have Roy Moore against Luther Strange, the senator that President Trump is endorsing. Shemichael, I'm curious what the implications will be if Luther Strange loses. The president has backed him. He may lose to Roy Moore, seen as a more controversial, in some ways a more Trumpy candidate. What do you think the lesson will be if Roy Moore wins and what lesson will the president take from it?

SINGLETON: Well, you know, interestingly enough, I agree. I think Judge Moore is Moore in sync with President Trump's brand of politics. I was watching last night on "Sean Hannity" where Steve Bannon was talking about this and he mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as persuading the president to endorse Luther Strange versus Judge Moore.

Look, I think that the results will probably lead towards Judge Moore winning this and going on to the general. I think for the president it will simply probably lead for him to make an even stronger case, particularly to his base, for why he should not trust Republicans in the Senate because they led him to endorse someone who did not win.

And so after listening to Bannon, you listen to the president's remarks, he even admitted himself, well, you know, he may not win it. If he doesn't win, then I'll go ahead and back Moore. So it would seem to me that the expectation from the White House and those around the president is that Luther Strange probably will not win this and they have already began to make the case for why. And I think you'll easily see the president transition over to supporting Judge Moore.

BERMAN: All right, Margaret, Alice, Shemichael, thanks so much. We have to cut this short because we do have some breaking news.

The Equifax CEO is out after that hack that exposed more than 100 million people.

Christine Romans, CNN chief business correspondent, joins us now.

Just coming in. What's this all about?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Just coming in right now. The stock was halted so we knew that there would be big news coming in and the Equifax CEO is retiring. But this means he has been pushed out.

Richard Smith is his name. And now you have a new chairman of the board who apologized -- apologized to customers for that big hack, 143 million of you, your information out there on the dark web. And 143 million people, just an astonishingly large cyber security breach. The company says it is still trying to get to the bottom of it, et cetera, et cetera.

But a reminder to everyone that this company -- you're not -- you're not the customer of this company. Y our data is its product. And that's what's so maddening to so many people, that they were not able to keep control of this. It's so maddening that there was a patch to fix this problem but the hackers had already been in there and were gallivanting around in there with your information.

So still going to get more information on this. The stock is EFX at the New York Stock Exchange and it has been halted for this news that the leader of this company is out.

There were two other high profile departures recently as well. So people see house cleaning at Equifax.

John. BERMAN: Do you expect any market response to this, you know, when the market opens in 17 minutes. And if not this, you know, what will the markets be looking at today?

ROMANS: You know, I think you're going to see a little bit of a bounce in the market. Things were mixed just about an hour ago, but you're seeing some of these tech stocks that took a beating yesterday are coming back. A little bit of a bouncing back here today. So futures turning up just a little bit.

But remember, John, you've had a really incredible run over the past eight years, and specifically over the past year you've had a big bounce. The Dow is up some 13 percent. So the stock market investors have been rewarded for their patience in the past few years. So things just a little bit choppy here this morning but I think you'll see things look up a little bit.

BERMAN: All right, rewarded mightily for their patience over the last few years.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, great to have you here. Thanks so much.

We were just talking about it, the run-off is on. Outsider versus insider in this heated, crucial race with serious implications for the president. We are live on the ground.

Plus, a deadly blow. Does Senator Collins' no vote on the repeal bill mean that the health care effort is over?

And, North Korea ramping up its defenses on its east coast, this one day after the country said it would shoot down U.S. bombers.



BERMAN: It is election day in Alabama, and a day of reckoning of sorts for the president. The candidate he is supporting is very much in danger of losing to a candidate backed by many of his supporters including his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

Senator Luther Strange facing off against the controversial judge, Roy Moore, in today's Republican run-off. The president is backing Strange. A short time ago, he wrote, "Luther Strange has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement. Finish the job. Vote today for big Luther."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Birmingham for us. Debatable whether in fact Luther Strange has been shooting up in the polls over the last few days. This is going to be tough.

[09:20:03] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, John. This is definitely a heated battle these two men are locked into for the Senate that was left open by Jeff Sessions when he became the attorney general earlier this year.

And on one hand, we have Luther Strange who enjoys the backing of the president and is also backed by more establishment Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose super PAC aligned with him has poured millions of dollars into ads for Luther Strange.

And he's also touted this endorsement by the president as he's been down in the polls to Roy Moore. Listen to what he said just this morning.


SEN. LUTHER STRANGE (R), ALABAMA: I can assure you, Steve, if I were part of the problem, the president wouldn't be down here campaigning so hard for me. I think it's a narrative because there are other agendas out there.


COLLINS: On the other hand, here, John, we have Roy Moore who is a very controversial candidate. He's been kicked off the bench twice here in Alabama, once for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from a state house and another time for refusing to uphold a Supreme Court decision that legalize gay marriage.

Now he's backed by Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, who was fired last month. So, there's another dynamic here at play, and for the first time we are seeing the president and Steve Bannon really pitted against each other in this race.

Steve Bannon as he's campaigned to Roy Moore has made clear this is not about Donald Trump but about a battle against establishment Republicans. Listen to what he said about Roy Moore last night.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They think you're a pack of morons. They think you are nothing but rudes. You are going to get an opportunity to tell them what you think of the elites that run this country. A vote for Judge Roy Moore is a vote for Donald J. Trump.


COLLINS: So, what is really at stake here is the fight for the soul of the Republican Party between establishment candidates and grassroot candidates like Roy Moore, and if Roy Moore comes out of here and wins today, people like Mitch McConnell fear that that could happen again in 2018 -- John.

BERMAN: Scathing words there. Kaitlan Collins for us in Birmingham. Thanks so much, Kaitlan.

So, is today the day the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare ends. Overnight, Susan Collins, the senator from Maine announced she would vote no. M.J. Lee on Capitol Hill for us this morning with a status report -- M.J.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, this thing is not going to be fully dead until Mitch McConnell says that it is, and he has not yet made that decision, at least he hasn't yet publicly.

But what he does know, as you mentioned, is that he knows he does not have the votes with Susan Collins coming out last night, both Collins and John McCain and Rand Paul, that makes three.

This means that if McConnell were to bring this up for a vote today, this bill would not pass. Now the question is why has he not pulled the plug yet? This is because he is facing a lot of pressure from some of his colleagues to not give up.

Folks who are not ready to give up on the fight to repeal Obamacare. In fact, some of his colleagues, John, are saying that they would like to see this bill come up for a vote even though they know this bill would not pass.

Listen to what Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors of the Graham/Cassidy bill said on CNN's health care town hall last night.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So, we're going to press on. It's OK to vote. It's OK to fall short if you do for an idea you believe in.


COLLINS: Now, this is a tough position that Mitch McConnell finds himself in if he does decide to bring this bill up for a vote and it fails. This will be the second big failure on health care in just two months.

Now, on the other hand, if McConnell decide that he will not bring this up for a vote despite some of his colleagues wanting a vote, then risks angering some of his colleagues and actually encouraging some of these folks to continue trying at a time when leadership feels pretty strongly that they are really ready to move on to other issues like tax reform.

Now it is Tuesday so, again, we are watching that policy that will happen this afternoon, and inside that room is where Mitch McConnell is going to get a better idea of how strongly some of his colleagues want this bill to come up for a vote -- John.

BERMAN: You heard it there from M.J. Lee. It's not dead until Mitch McConnell says it's dead. We will be watching very closely. M.J., thanks so much.

Fears in Puerto Rico, the island becoming an afterthought after Hurricane Maria. Growing questions over the administration response. We'll have much more next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: President Trump firing off this morning once again at the NFL, the president in one statement expressing great anger at the players taking a knee before the national anthem.

These new statements come as the controversy grows over the president's response in Puerto Rico. Many fear that the hurricane devastated U.S. territory is not the primary focus now of the administration.

Joining me now for his take on this and much more, Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana. Senator, thank you so much for being with us.

Let me just read you the latest statement from the President of the United States. The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations and the only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our national anthem.

I suppose there are two questions here. Do you agree that the NFL should implement such a rule? Do you think it's a priority for the president of the United States to be talking about that this morning?

SEN. STEVE DAINES (R), MONTANA, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, John, I am the son of a U.S. Marine and I grew up being taught the importance of respecting our flag for what it represents, the thousands of men and women who have died defending it.

I think it's not the right place to me on the ballfield to be showing disrespect to the United States flag. My kids grew up playing sports. I think about all the times as little leaguers, we honor our national anthem and the flag.

You have millions of young people who were watching NFL players who they idolize, and I think it's very important that we just teach these principles of respect.