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Interview with Senator Richard Shelby; Much of Puerto Rico Island Still Lacks Power, Food and Water; North Korea Says It Has Right to Shoot Down U.S. Planes; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 10:30   ET



[10:30:42] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: If you are into elections the center of the political universe, Alabama, today. A key runoff between Republicans Roy Moore and the current senator Luther Strange. This over the seat of the now attorney general Jeff Sessions.

This primary very, very tight. The president backing Luther Strange, some of the president's own supporters, though, backing Roy Moore.

Joining me someone who has got a keen interest in this race to say the least, the senior senator from the state of Alabama, Richard Shelby.

Senator Shelby, thank you very, very much for being with us. You are a big supporter of Senator Luther Strange. Let me say that at the outset. This is a very interesting race pitting the president against some of his own supporters including Steve Bannon.

You told "The New York Times" if Roy Moore wins, Bannon and all of those other people will pop out of the woodwork everywhere. What do you mean by that and why would that be a problem?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, if they have success, any group has success, Bannon's group in this case, if they have success, they're going to look for other battles. That's very logical. And there are few they could find easily up here because someone is always disgruntled and probably should be.

BERMAN: Why would it concern you, though, if more people like Steve Bannon came out of the woodwork? What is it about his views or his politics that you don't like?

SHELBY: Well, I didn't say I didn't like anything about him. I just told you that I think that in this case that they will go after a few people that they think are not conservative enough. In this case, I support Luther Strange because Luther Strange I think has done a great job up here in the short time he's been in the Senate. Secondly, he's a friend of mine for 35 years. He and his family. And I believe that there's a good choice here.

I know Roy Moore. I have nothing against Roy Moore. But the people will make that decision today and I think it's going to be a close race. We'll have to see today. It depends on who turns out. If it's a big turnout Luther will probably win. If it's a small turnout, Moore will probably win.

BERMAN: Senator, much of the attention of the country over the last few days has been about the NFL and rules about kneeling or standing during the national anthem. That's been the focus of much of the country and the president of the United States, much of the suffering in the United States over the last few days has been Puerto Rico. 3.5 million Americans there living without power, without water, communications are down.

What needs to be done to help the people of Puerto Rico?

SHELBY: We should do everything in our power to help them. It's a real disaster there. They're American citizens. They're a commonwealth. Just like we help Florida, just like we help Texas and I believe the Congress will respond to Puerto Rico's needs.

BERMAN: And do you feel that has been where the president has focused the bulk of his attention the last few days? At one point I counted more than 15 statements on Twitter about the national anthem and kneeling in the NFL before he got to his first statement about Puerto Rico.

SHELBY: Well, I think he's probably focused on a lot of things. I spent about an hour or so with him Friday and flying to Alabama, and he's concerned about Texas. He's concerned about Florida, he's concerned -- he talked to me about Puerto Rico, and a lot of other things. But he's also concerned and a lot of us are lack of respect for a lot of traditions in America. People got a right to believe what they want to and do what they want to, as long as they don't break the law.

But I am a traditionalist, I believe in respect for the flag and respect for the national anthem. I think it brings people together. It doesn't divide them. I hope and pray that more people will look like -- look at that in a positive way.

BERMAN: Well, look, and that's a discussion worth having and you do it in a reasoned way. And I think both sides of the people on that discussion would like to have it like that. The president isn't having much of a discussion, though. He's calling names. He did it Friday night in Alabama where he said that he wishes that the owners would tell that son of a bitch, as he said, to get off the field. Is that the right way to address this conflict?

SHELBY: Well, the president has got his own way and you have your way and I have my way. My way would be to try to be an example of respect for our institutions and also try to bring people together in the country.

[10:35:04] We need more of that every day and, you know, we do stand for something in this country. It's not a perfect country. But it's probably the best in the world, at least I think so, and most Americans do.

BERMAN: I think so, too. I can -- we can agree on that, sir. I think it is absolutely the best country in the world. The president visited Alabama Friday night. Do you think the effect

of that rally was everything that Luther Strange hoped it would be? Because at least nationally so much of the discussion since Friday night has been about the NFL. You don't hear the name Luther Strange very much.

SHELBY: I think that Luther Strange, Senator Strange, appreciated the president going down there. He packed the coliseum in Huntsville, Alabama, and very few of us could do that. And I thought it was a very positive meeting. I was there. But now the question is, who goes to the polls and who votes for who?

BERMAN: Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, always a pleasure to have you with us.

SHELBY: Thank you.

BERMAN: So thank you very, very much.

Just talking about Puerto Rico there with the senator. He wants to get aid there very, very quickly. Why? Well, food is scarce. Water is scarce. Fuel almost nonexistent. Most of the island without power. We are live there next.


[10:40:17] BERMAN: Very shortly the president will receive a briefing on the situation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. The situation frankly not good at all. Millions without power. To make matters worse, food, water, fuel, very, very scarce.

CNN's Rafael Romo live in San Juan with the very latest. Rafael, what are you seeing?

RAFAEL ROOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this is a natural disaster like any -- unlike any other that the island of Puerto Rico has seen in recorded history. We're talking about 3.4 million American citizens here on the Caribbean that have been left without power, water, and very, very few supplies.

And Puerto Rico got hit by a one-two punch. First it was Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria and the combination of these two very powerful storms have created a humanitarian crisis. As a matter of fact, officials here from the governor to mayors are already talking that this is a humanitarian crisis already and many residents have been left homeless, other people are coming home from shelters only to find out that they have very little left, and those who have still their homes are finding out that their furniture, belongings, other things around the house are completely gone.

So it is a very dire situation for millions of people here. Now we had an opportunity to hear from the mayor of San Juan earlier and this is what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Make no doubt about it there is a humanitarian crises. Not only in San Juan, but in the rest of the island. Let's make sure that this is not a handout. This is a moral imperative and it's a plea for help and it's a plea for us to be done right.


ROMO: Responding to the mayor on Twitter, President Trump said the following, "Thank you to Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, for your kind words. And FEMA, et cetera were working hard. Much food and water there on the way."

Still a big problem with the airport only taking about 10 flights a day -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Rafael Romo for us in San Juan, thank you very, very much.

For many families in Puerto Rico a struggle to make it from hour to hour. Towns in the more remote areas so hard hit.

CNN's Bill Weir takes us to a neighborhood outside of San Juan that still has no power and for them it is a matter of life and death.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'd like to show you around what is left of what once was one of the most scenic neighborhoods in Aguas Buenas, the Good Waters, a town of about 28,000 south of San Juan.

First of all, the first thing you see as you drive up in the highlands it looks like a bomb went off. This is lush tropical greenery. Imagine the flowers and the foliage. It's like a lawnmower in the sky came down. And it's like that across the island. But this house is in a neighborhood put right on a ridge. It's so beautiful up here. And this is Diana and her husband, Miguel.

Say hi.



WEIR: She's OK. She's OK. Her son, Miguel, here's the little dog, Mika . Hello, hello, he's doing OK. So they survived, thankfully, but they're very worried because her husband, Miguel, who is a Vietnam war veteran, is bedridden inside. And he needs insulin and so refrigeration is a matter of life or death. And the power is out for most of Puerto Rico.

And here's why. Look at this. One of the main transmission towers that goes to San Juan crushed this home. Thankfully the man who lives here evacuated before the storm. He's in a shelter. But only about 50 people in this town of 28,000 evacuated. Most rode it out. And so search and rescue teams aren't available to check on everyone because the roads are impassible, as you see right now.

This is not something you fix with a bucket truck. This will take helicopters. This will take months. But as we follow the line across, imagine this scene is being replayed across Puerto Rico. And the need is so desperate. If this is any indication, Puerto Rico may rise again but they are going to need a ton of help and a lot of time.


BERMAN: Our Bill Weir with a look from the ground and the air of the situation in Puerto Rico.

We did just get some breaking news, some pretty tragic breaking news. Two people died in the San Juan hospital ICU due to lack of diesel. That information coming from the mayor of San Juan, just telling our Leyla Santiago two people have died in an ICU because of lack of diesel, well, lack of resources there. So very dangerous.

Joining us now from San Juan, Dr. Anne Peterson, the senior vice president of Global Programs for Americares.

Doctor, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it. That breaking news devastating, two people died in an ICU, in a hospital because of lack of diesel.

[10:45:05] And the hospitals had been a priority area to get the fuel so they can get the power and the cooling that they need.

DR. ANNE PETERSON, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL PROGRAMS, AMERICARES: Yes. Absolutely. And I have visited a number of hospitals and their number one request is diesel to keep the hospital functioning, to keep the patients safe, especially like the ICU patients you just mentioned. And some parts of the island have been completely cut off. I was in Ponce yesterday, it was the first time that any of those hospitals have been visited. They have four to five days of diesel left.

BERMAN: Four to five days of diesel left and no word yet on exactly when more will be there.

I want to lean on you because you have been to these areas where there are natural disasters before. Is this recovery moving as quickly as it needs to? Are the people of Puerto Rico getting the help they need from the federal government?

PETERSON: So the recovery and response is never as fast as the people need. There is always more than we can possibly do during the very early times. I'm seeing really big changes in the last two and a half days since I got here. Better coordination, faster response, they're beginning to move the gas which we need for the transportation to get out to these different hospitals and health care clinics, and the -- beginning to set the priorities like getting the diesel to the health care institutions that are providing that urgent and life-saving care.

BERMAN: What about the remote areas? So much concern over these areas that in some cases have barely been reached. Our Leyla Santiago arrived in a helicopter yesterday and got a giant hug from a woman because she was the first person from the outside who had been there in five days.

PETERSON: Yes. Definitely. I don't think there are places we haven't been to at all but I was in Ponce, which is the second largest city in Puerto Rico, and they haven't had any visitors either until I got there yesterday. So incredibly appreciative.

And I'll tell you a story. We visited one of the largest hospitals. They had safely delivered a healthy baby, eight pounds, who had a neurological condition that needed a neurosurgeon to fix. They could hold her for a few days, but they couldn't transport her out of Ponce to San Juan. They didn't have any way to let the hospitals up here know that they had this critical child. And we brought a sat phone. We shared our sat phone.

They called the hospital up here, got in contact and today that child will be going up to San Juan to get the surgery that it needs. Something as simple as just being able to communicate is totally holding back the ability to respond. They're not getting their medicines and medical supplies. Patients don't know which hospitals and health care centers are open and able to provide care for them.

We went -- Americares went down, we are gathering the needs list, what do they need most urgently and when, and bringing it back up here to San Juan and then we will be doing air shipments and cargo via boat coming in with the medicines and medical supplies for the additional needs and all of the recovery.

BERMAN: Dr. Anne Peterson of Americares, thank you for being with us. Most of all, thank you for your work.

PETERSON: We are so happy to be here. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. North Korea says it can now shoot down U.S. planes because the United States has declared war and now they are moving military into hostile positions. Stay with us.


[10:53:11] BERMAN: New this morning North Korea moving planes and boosting its defenses along its coast. This happening one day after the country's Foreign minister said that North Korea can now shoot down U.S. planes because of the statement by President Trump which they believe amounted to a declaration of war. The White House calls that conclusion absurd.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's the Pentagon view?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House all saying no, this is not a declaration of war against North Korea. But let's be clear, as the rhetoric ramps up from the Trump administration, the North Koreans turning up their own rhetoric. It's what you would expect them to do. You know, them -- they are very clear that they are very unhappy with

the U.S. and unhappy with that flight of U.S. bomber aircraft over the weekend in international waters, in international air space off the Korean peninsula and threatening to shoot down U.S. planes even if they are in that international arena.

The Pentagon responding to that specifically saying that it will maintain its right to fly or sail in international air space, in international waters. So the rhetoric continuing to ratchet up and why it's so important of course is miscalculation. If it gets to the point where either side miscalculates what the rhetoric means, miscalculates the verbal threats it could lead to real problems.

That's the big worry, that's why you see the State Department and the Pentagon continuing to make the case for a diplomatic solution to all of this.

Not really confirming yet these North Korean statements that they've moved a significant amount of their defenses and their aircraft to the east coast of the country. U.S. satellites are able to watch all of that very closely.

[10:55:01] So we'll be continuing to check on that and see if that really is a substantial move, a substantial change in North Korean military defenses -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very, very much, watching that very closely how will North Korea respond next.

In just a few minutes, President Trump, he will get a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Much of his focus, though, over the course of the morning has been rules in football games. Really before football games.

We're following all the latest developments. Stay with us.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Two major stories unfolding AT THIS HOUR. A flood and a feud.