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NFL Controversy; U.S. Health Secretary Spent One Million Dollars on Chartered Flights; Crisis in Puerto Rico. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You have President Trump insisting the federal government is delivering in Puerto Rico. But then you have the mayor of San Juan, and she says it's a different story.


CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: This is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or- death story.

This is -- there's a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen, because people are not getting food and water. If I could scream it a lot more louder, it is not a good news story when people are dying, when they don't have dialysis, when their generators aren't working and their oxygen isn't providing for them.


BALDWIN: That was the mayor early this morning on CNN responding to the acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke, who had said this:


ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am very satisfied. I know it's a hard storm to recover from, but the amount of progress that's been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get.

I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people.


BALDWIN: But, we should point out, Elaine Duke, who is in Puerto Rico today, clarified just a minute ago in a news conference that as long as people are struggling -- quote -- "We will never be satisfied."

This back and forth here as millions of Americans are rationing lifesaving resources, they are going to bed hungry, they are thirsty, still without power, water, and gas.

These pictures and stories we are getting from CNN's teams on the ground speak for themselves.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You can't even believe what is happening here. There's no power. There's no water. She's a diabetic. She doesn't have insulin. She has an infection that could threaten her life. No ambulance will take her to the hospital. That's what's happening here.


BALDWIN: With me now, CNN's Rafael Romo, who's standing outside a supermarket where the lines have been forming.

And, Rafael, you told me the people in the line behind you, they're the lucky ones.


I mean, Brooke, we have been to different parts of the island, and we have shown you the devastation and the need. These are the lucky few. But what does it mean to be a lucky few in Puerto Rico right now? It means that you have to get up very early.

You come to a supermarket like this one, and you stand in line for hours and hours for the chance to buy a few groceries. Now, they only let people in 10 at a time, and the line moves about every 20 minutes or so. So people wait for a long, long time.

Nothing is being rationed now, with the exception of water. They only allow sales of three gallons of water per family. So it's a desperate situation for many families.

And I was talking to some of them, and they say, I need milk for my children, I need meat. I don't have power, so nothing works at home. What I had had spoiled already.

So it's a very difficult situation. Now, it breaks my heart to see a lot of elderly people standing in line here, mothers with babies, because the temperature right now is 87 degrees.

But it's also raining on and off, meaning it's incredibly hot, but at the same time it's very humid. They are lucky at this store because they have a generator, and they have had supplies delivered to them for the last four days, but, again, like I said before at the beginning, these people are the lucky few in Puerto Rico, Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's just wrong. Just wrong. Rafael, thank you.

As we keep hearing all these different stories, I have sitting next to me right now actress, director, activist Rosie Perez, who is a Puerto Rican American.

It's a pleasure to see you. I hate the circumstances. We were just chatting in commercial break. And I was asking you -- you have been in touch with a lot people. So, let's first just begin with your family. You have a lot of family down there. How are they doing?

ROSIE PEREZ, ACTRESS: My family down there, they're alive, but they're very, very heartbroken and they're struggling because they need supplies. They need water. They need food. They need shelter.

You know, a few of them have it. But, you know, even though it's a tiny town in Aguadilla, it's -- every single town in Puerto Rico is important. And they're far away from San Juan, so they're not getting what they need.

BALDWIN: Your sister-in-law is down there.

PEREZ: My sister-in-law.

BALDWIN: Your brother is trying, hoping to get to her. And how did she describe when the hurricane first came through? What did it sound like?

PEREZ: She told my brother that is sounded like a science fiction monster came and stomped on the island and just ripped it, just took a bit out of it and just discarded half of the island into the ocean.


BALDWIN: And your friend, the firefighter from here in New York, the New York area, tell me about him and what firsthand accounts he was sharing with you as he came back last night.

PEREZ: Joe Gonzalez (ph) from the Lower East Side, he's a good friend of our mutual friend Ramon Rodriguez (ph).

And he works with Heart 911. It's a wonderful organization. They formed it after 9/11. He went down the third day after this happened, unlike our current administration. And they went down there. They started to help people.

And he came back last night and he said, you cannot imagine the devastation. You just cannot imagine. People were begging him not just for water, not just for food, for umbrellas, because they need shade from the sun. People are getting sunstroke.

He said that the bigger problem to come too, outside of people potentially dying, is that there are dead carcasses, dead animals everywhere, dead horses, dead cows, dead chickens, dead pigs and dogs and cats everywhere.

And once the animals begin to decompose, that's a terrible health hazard. And not only with the dead carcasses, the Superfund sites, there are over 20 Superfund sites with hazardous material on that island. It's just beginning, Brooke. The devastation is just beginning.

BALDWIN: He's been to Afghanistan. He's been to Haiti. He lives in Texas.

PEREZ: And he said nothing compares to what's happening in Puerto Rico.

BALDWIN: How do you feel? Are you saddened? Are you enraged? What emotions are you -- have you been feeling the last nine days?

PEREZ: All of the above. First, it was shock, and then it turned into dismay. And then it turned into tears, and then it turned into raging anger from the president's response.

Even just today, earlier today, he still had the nerve to bring up the debt. It's just you don't kick people when they're down. And he goes, well, I don't know how we're going to repay. We have got to talk about the cost of rebuilding.

How about we talk about the cost of just saving people's lives first, and then we can move on from there? And it's just been really, really terrible.

And thank God the Jones Act has been waived. It needs to be repealed completely, but we will take the waive for now, because there are foreign ships, there are other countries that do want to help, that have been wanting to help.

It's just -- it beyond angers me, Brooke. I go to sleep crying, I wake up angry.

I'm sorry. It's just too much. It really is. And when I wrote the letter for Lenny...

BALDWIN: The Lenny Letter.

PEREZ: The Lenny Letter, talking to Lena Dunham and Jessica, they said, what do you want to talk about? And I said how this brings back all the mistreatment that I endured, that other Puerto Rican Americans endured when we were kids, of being called names, of being treated less than.

And people go, well, how does that apply now? I go, well, the delayed response. You know, Texas got 40,000 troops, Puerto Rico 10,000, 10,000. Ninety-five percent of the island is still water power.

These people, the woman that you just showed lying in the bed with diabetes, come on. We're just as important. We are Americans, and we need to be treated as such. Bring in the troops. Bring in that officer who took care of Katrina. He's wanting to go.

BALDWIN: General Honore.

PEREZ: Everybody wants to go. Everybody wants to go.

This will be a stain on Donald Trump's name forever. Forever.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the president, just last question, I want you to look into this camera. If he is watching, what would you say to him? PEREZ: Send in the troops. Send in the money. Send in everything

that you can have.

And, please, when you talk about Puerto Rico, show some empathy. Show some compassion, because what you're doing right now, it ain't cutting it.

BALDWIN: Rosie, thank you so much. Thank you.

Coming up, we're going to have more on Puerto Rico, including our chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, down there talking to those being treated at the hospitals.

Also, you see these pictures on your screen. Several of the president's Cabinet members, they're in trouble for their expensive travel habits on your taxpayer dime.

And reports potentially that Tom Price could lose his job over all of this, former Obama adviser David Axelrod will join me live to weigh in on that.


Also just in, we have some new CNN polls on what Americans think about the national anthem protests and the president's attacks on these NFL players.

A lot more to come here on this Friday. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A source tells CNN that Health Secretary Tom Price is on shaky ground over his misuse of planes on the job. This source says the president is angry, calling Secretary price's decisions as, his word, stupid.

And we're now learning exactly how much money in terms of taxpayer dollars some of Secretary Price's air travel cost. So, when you do the math, it actually tallies to about $1 million, which includes two dozen chartered flights, with the biggest payout for two international flights on government planes.


Price says he will pay back some of the charges. That's closer to $52,000. And yet as he tries to make up for all of this, the health secretary defended the flights, saying they were all properly vetted.


TOM PRICE, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We think it's important to do a number of things. One is to say there will be no private air charters at HHS going forward.

Second is to cooperate fully, obviously, with the inspector general. There's a review going on, and that I called for an internal review within the department itself. And then, finally, to pay for my portion of those trips.

This is unprecedented. Never done, to our understanding, before by a secretary, in spite of the fact that previous administrations have had secretaries that flew an awful lot.

I work at the pleasure of the president. The president is a remarkable leader. I'm incredibly privileged to serve in his Cabinet and work on behalf of the American people. And I look forward to gaining -- regaining the trust that the American people, some of the American people may have lost in the activities that I took, and to not only regain the trust of the American people, but gain the trust of the administration and the president.


BALDWIN: With me now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, host of "THE AXE FILES." He was also a former senior adviser in the Obama White House.

As always, David Axelrod, a pleasure. Welcome.


BALDWIN: I just did the whole setup. Do you think Tom Price should be fired?


Well, look, if I were advising the president as a political matter, absolutely he should be fired, because this is something everybody can relate to. He clearly abused taxpayer dollars.

It was interesting to hear him now take credit for the steps that he's taking in response to his own abuses, you know, the arsonist who dumps a fire all over the house, lights the match, and then shows up with a hose and wants credit for retarding the fire.

The fact of the matter is that what he did was outrageous. And let me just say, I had a conversation this morning with a former Obama administration Cabinet member, who told me how difficult it was to get a military air -- plane.

And the only way you could get was is if you could prove that there was no other way to make the trip but this. Now, his staff followed him on these trips on commercial flights. So, if his staff could take commercial flights, why did he have to have a military plane?

So, yes, I would say he should be fired. If this were another administration, he would have been fired already, and Congress would be even more incensed than they apparently are now.

BALDWIN: Yes. And to go with your arsonist analogy and the fact that he's showing up with the hose is apparently even further enraging the president. That's according to reporting. But he's not the only one. There are these four Trump Cabinet members

that are all under fire for their use of private or military jets. Is this a drunk-with-power situation, tone-deaf millionaires? Obviously, this goes against the whole Trump draining the swamp brand.

AXELROD: Yes, I think it's a little of all of it.

But let's be honest about this. There hasn't exactly been a high ethical standard set from the top, the president from not releasing his tax returns to waiving ethics rules now, lobbyists, for example, being able to donate for the legal defense of people in the White House without disclosure of these. That is a rule that -- I don't know if it's in effect. It was being considered.

A whole range of issues have come up relative to the president and the White House. So, if you're a Cabinet member, the message that you hear is, you know, the old rules don't apply and Katy bar the doors.

And I think that if you're going to demand high ethical standards from your Cabinet, then you ought to observe them yourself.

BALDWIN: Let's switch to Puerto Rico.

I don't know if you were just listening to my Rosie Perez interview.


BALDWIN: We went to commercial break, and she was just in full tears. And all I could do was just grab her hand.


BALDWIN: She's sad, she's angry. And she's emblematic of so many Americans.

And when you look at the president, and he's almost -- like, he's obsessed with the criticism and the media coverage of how he and the federal government has responded, instead of actually fixing the crisis.

Now Elaine Duke is there today, and there are 10,000 troops on the ground. But what do you make of it?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let's separate out the people who are on the ground and are trying to do their best from the way the president and the administration has reacted to it.

We spent a whole weekend where the entire focus of the president was on Colin Kaepernick...


AXELROD: ... and a story that took place a long time ago.

[15:20:02] And he decided that he wanted to score some political points with his

base. And that was where his focus was over the weekend, while this massive humanitarian crisis was welling up.

But there's another issue here. And that is the president's apparent inability to show any kind of empathy. Anyone who watches these scenes from Puerto Rico -- we hear stories about people dying because the power ran out on their dialysis machine or people who can't get their medication and people cut off and fearful -- anyone would be moved by these stories.

And he seems intent on proving that he's doing a good job, that he responded adequately. And so now I'm reminded of the mistake, frankly that President Bush made during Hurricane Katrina, when he said, "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie," to his FEMA director...


AXELROD: ... when plainly that there were big, big problems.

So, and you should take a lesson from that. But I think this is more endemic to who the man is. I just -- he's so absorbed with himself that it is hard for him to get beyond that and put himself in other people's shoes.

And that is part of the job of president, is to make that human connection, to signify to people that are you thoroughly invested in trying to deal with a crisis they're facing, that you hear them, that you feel them.

And that also permeates the rest of the government in responding to the crisis. So, it's a problem. And I don't know if this is one that he can overcome in terms of his own personality.

BALDWIN: He heads to Puerto Rico Tuesday. We will watch and wait and see. You're right, though, on how much time and Twitter characters he gave to the whole NFL protest bid.

And you talked to the legendary James Baker, who actually backed the president's argument on these national anthem protests. Here's just a piece of your conversation with him.


JAMES BAKER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I just think it's outrageous. There are plenty of ways that you can call in to question some of the racism that may still exist in this country. But that's the wrong way to do it.

You don't denigrate -- the one thing that used to -- and I hope it still will -- unify us is that we're all Americans.

AXELROD: Colin Kaepernick was expressing a sentiment that many, many people in the community feel about injustice, about the problems within our criminal justice system that are deeply felt. And he drew attention to them. He made clear that he wasn't protesting the military, the flag. He

was exercising the rights that the flag offered him.

BAKER: You can't tell me that not standing up for the national anthem with your hand over your heart is not denigrating the national anthem or the flag. It is.


BALDWIN: I mean, the players stood up last night during the anthem.

You think the president's winning on this one?

AXELROD: Well, I don't know whether he's winning or not.

I know that dividing the country -- CNN has a poll out today that suggests the country is deeply divided on this issue. This was an unnecessary debate that he inserted into the national discussion, again, reinserted it in orders to score in order to score political points.

So, whether he's on the sort of 52 percent or 48 percent or whatever side of this issue, I don't think the country gains. And, therefore, I don't think he gains ultimately by engaging in this, and certainly at a time when there are other issues like Puerto Rico that are really pressing and demand and deserve his attention.

Interesting thing about Secretary Baker on this was, in many other points in the interview, he was tacitly very critical of the president, on the tweeting, on some of his personnel practices and so on. And so I think he was all too happy to wade into this one to just, you know, put a few chips on the other side.

But it's really -- I hope people will watch this discussion tomorrow night, he really -- because this is a guy who was considered one of the great White House chiefs of staff, one of the great kind of government insiders in the history -- or certainly in modern history.

And his -- the president would be well to watch this, because he offered some points that would be really useful.

BALDWIN: Mr. President, tune in if you're watching.

It's "THE AXE FILES." Don't miss the full interview with legendary statesman and former Secretary of State James Baker. As David mentioned, "THE AXE FILES" airs tomorrow night, 7:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

David Axelrod, always a pleasure. Thank you.

AXELROD: Same here, Brooke. Great to see you.

BALDWIN: And next, what -- thank you.

And what David just mentioned, a newly released CNN poll shows where the country stands on these NFL protests and President Trump's reaction to them.


And I have got Montel Williams waiting in the wings here. He's going to weigh in, a Marine, you know, why the military veteran has been passionately defending the players taking a knee.


BALDWIN: As another Sunday approaches for America's favorite sport, the country will once again focus their attention on how NFL players choose to observe the national anthem.

And after a week of conversations that feel like Americans are extremely divided over the issue, CNN actually has new, brand-new poll numbers that shows exactly how Americans feel.

So, one of the questions is, when asked whether athletes should kneel in protest during the national anthem, 43 percent said it was the right thing to do, 49 percent said it was wrong.