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Trump Trades New Barbs; Niger Attack Investigation; Obama Rallies Democrats; Puerto Ricans Still Without Power; Dodgers Reach World Series. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:32:33] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: An ugly few hours. The president striking out at a member of Congress. Florida Representative Fredricka Wilson hitting back at what she says are lies being said about her coming from the White House.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us to talk about this and a lot more, Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He has a big job ahead of him. Thank you for being with us.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: It's great to be with you this morning.

HARLOW: So before we move on to that, I just would love your reflections on what we've seen transpire in the last 72 hours that has put a lot of the focus, frankly, on he said/she said/he said, versus the lives and the memories of these four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's exactly right. This is really a tragic moment, in a sense, because the sanctity of the troops and the losses borne by the families of our troops is something that's always been protected. And, unfortunately, it's become politicized. And President Trump obviously brought this upon himself when he began to compare the way he handled this with previous presidents, and he had his facts wrong. I just hope that we will get back to that time when this was not part of politics.

BERMAN: And get some answers, perhaps, on what did happen on the ground in Niger. You know, as a member of the U.S. Senate, are you being given the answers you feel you need?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I don't think we've had the answers that we need. I think Senator McCain was very clear in talking about the need to have the administration do a thorough investigation and for the Congress to understand exactly what happened, both to get to the bottom of what happened in the deaths of these four soldiers, but also to learn lessons to try to avoid these kinds of deaths going forward.


VAN HOLLEN: I think the testimony we've heard so far is that this was a surprise attack, people got caught totally off guard. So we need to make sure that we're learning lessons from this loss of life.

HARLOW: You know, there are some of your fellow Democrats who are using the words Trump's Benghazi, comparing it to Benghazi and the ensuing investigation. I wonder if you think -- and there are other -- also other Democrats and conservatives who are saying, wait, it's too early to say that it's going too far. Where do you fall on that debate at this point? Is it too early to be making accusations like that?

VAN HOLLEN: I think we need to get the facts.


VAN HOLLEN: I mean it's really important to gather the facts. And I do think that we should have, you know, begun to gather the facts more quickly. A lot of time elapsed between the time of this tragedy and the time the president even acknowledged that it happened.

[09:35:14] Now, let's get to the facts and let's get to the bottom of this. And then, again, we can find out both what happened, but also learn lessons for the future to help protect our troops.

BERMAN: All right, senator, you spent a lot of times, over the last 10 years, first trying to elect Democratic House members, now trying to elect fellow Democratic senators. Well, you had former President Obama out on the trail yesterday trying to help elect Democrats to the governor's office mansions in this case. But listen to what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Y'all getting a little sleepy. You get a little complacent. Now this is not my opinion, this is the data. This is the data. You know, during presidential elections, everybody gets all excited. And then when it's an off-year election, suddenly everybody -- what, there's an election going on? Huh? Ad so as a consequence, folks wake up and they're surprised, how come we can't get things through Congress? How come we can't get things through the state house? Because you slept through the election.


BERMAN: All right, senator , heading into 2018, and first with these governors races in 2017, are you concerned that Democratic voters might be sleeping?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the good news right now is Democratic voters and lots of other voters have really woken up and been energized after the last presidential election. But President Obama's absolutely right. I mean historically, if you look at these mid-term elections, the share of the Democratic vote goes down compared to the share of the Democratic vote in presidential elections. And so turnout is key. So, for example, one of the big demographics there is younger voters. Younger voters turn out much higher numbers in presidential elections than they do in midterm elections and then ask themselves, you know, why is it that we aren't making more progress in Congress?

So President Obama is absolutely right, history tells us we need to have a big turnout in these mid-term elections. The good news is that if you look around the country, you do see much more energized Democratic voters, frankly independent voters as well, and a lot of Republican moderates who have become totally disenchanted with the direction of the Trump administration.

HARLOW: Senator, before you go, is Steve Bannon making your job a little bit easier by threatening to primary and raising money to primary every single Republican running again in 2018, with the exception of Ted Cruz? Do you smile when you hear that or does it scare you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I -- I make it a point never to get in the middle of a Republican political civil war. We're seeing in a lot of these Senate races around the country a very hotly contested Democratic primary -- excuse me, Republican primaries. And we have a lot of strong candidates.

But I will say the thing that I think is going to be most important is the focus on the issues. So, for example, the Republican effort to blow up the Affordable Care Act. A lot of people, Democrats, Republicans, independents, saw that. They didn't like what they saw. On this latest tax plan, this budget proposal that passed yesterday, so far it's shaping up to be another big tax break by very wealthy Americans that will be paid for by increasing taxes on millions of middle class taxpayers. Cuts in Medicare are called for in this budget and in Medicaid. And, at the end, it's a $1.5 trillion increase in the debt.

So those are real issues. And I think when the American public focuses on those issues, they're not going to like what they see and they're going to support the Democrats. And I don't -- I mean Democratic voters, independents, and, again, some of these moderate Republicans.

BERMAN: You will be talking about those issues all the way up until Christmas, if not beyond.

Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

VAN HOLLEN: Good to be with you.

BERMAN: All right, the president gives himself a 10 for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico. But here's another number for you, 79. That's the percent of Puerto Ricans still without power.


[09:43:46] HARLOW: The president is giving his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a ten. A ten out of ten to be clear. This morning, the mayor of San Juan spoke with CNN. She has a different number in mind. Listen to this.


MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: One. The administration has been unresponsive. They go back and forth. The president first says Katrina was a real disaster. And yesterday said this is worse than Katrina. You know, the response in the USVI has also been very slow. There are still places in Puerto Rico where food has not gotten there.


BERMAN: To be clear, she gave the president a one. So clearly they're grading on a different curve here.


BERMAN: The numbers, though, that matter, 79 percent of the island is still without power, 29 percent still without running water, 113 people still unaccounted for. CNN's Bill Weir reports from the island.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONNDENT (voice over): It is the most popular music video ever. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" has been viewed on YouTube over 4 billion times.

WEIR (on camera): But most of that massive audience probably didn't realize the video was shot in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in all of Puerto Rico. Welcome to La Perla. For years this place was written off as being drug and gang infested. Community organizers fought against that stigma. Hadn't been a murder here in six years.

[09:45:12] And then came "Despacito" and suddenly this rough side of town was a tourist destination and the economy started to blow up. People felt good about themselves. But then came Maria. Now you've got an outbreak of conjunctivitis among the children. The clinic is without power. There's no roof on the school. And there is no hope that help is coming anytime soon.

WEIR (voice over): Tourists wanted to come here, Ashita (ph) tells me. They came from Africa, China, South America. But after Maria, nobody comes. It's like a ghost town.

WEIR (on camera): So the doctors will see people in the dark here?

WEIR (voice over): Dr. Rosita (ph) shows me around the powerless hospital where cardiograms and electronic medical records are worthless.

WEIR (on camera): Is it true that Luis Fonsi donated a generator?


WIER: Five generators.

WEIR (voice over): They are trying to get it installed, but they need to go to the mayor's office and fill out paperwork, she tells me.

WEIR (on camera): You need permission, huh? Oh, my gosh.

WEIR (voice over): The excited scramble for a single bag of ice is proof that potable water and power are still elusive luxuries over a month after Maria. Which puts enormous pressure on the men paid to electrify Puerto Rico.

WEIR (on camera): There are (INAUDIBLE) hospitals, dialysis centers, homes, depending on power that runs through that. Those lines over there, that's the artery, the main spinal column of a power system. Maria devastated it. Crushed it. So how do you fix it? Well, you get guys like Troy and Nick, guys who aren't afraid of heights, and you send them up to heal the lines.

WEIR (voice over): They are (INAUDIBLE) lineman contacted by Whitefish Energy, a small two-year-old company out of Montana. It raised a lot of eyebrows when they were given a $300 million contract without any input from the Army Corps of Engineers.

WEIR (on camera): You know the headline down here for a couple days was, how the hell did you get this contract? This is -- you're a brand-new company, right?

ANDREW TECHMANSKI, CEO, WHITEFISH ENGERY HOLDINGS: We've been around for a few years. And, you know, we specialize in difficult and mountainous terrain projects. So all I can say is, we took the call and we're here.

WEIR: They called you?

TECHMANSKI: We called each other.

WEIR (voice over): He struck a deal with Prepa (ph), the publically owned utility notorious for high prices, rolling blackouts and a $9 billion debt.

WEIR (on camera): Is it a risk for you as a businessman to take this gig?

TECHMANSKI: It's a risk. It's a risk. But, you know, when you come down here and you see what I've seen and you have that skillset that can have an immediate impact on the people here, it becomes a mission. So we --

WEIR: It's not just a job?

TECHMANSKI: It's not a job. No, it became a mission.

WEIR: How long before juice is flow through these?

TECHMANSKI: It's a good question. And we hope to have this line back up in the next three to four days.

WEIR: The governor is promising 95 percent power back by Christmas?


WEIR: Is that reasonable? Is that a fantasy?

TECHMANSKI: We'll do -- we'll -- it's going to take a lot of people to reach that deadline.

WEIR: A lot more people.

TECHMANSKI: A lot more than we have here today.

WEIR: What we have here today?


WEIR: Yes.

WEIR (voice over): Whitefish says they have 300 linemen on the island with another 700 on the way, while they wait for a hundred bucket trucks and bulldozers still stuck in Florida ports.


WEIR (on camera): You're welcome.

WEIR (voice over): So it is anyone's guess as to when they'll have the lights back on in La Perla. Until then, there is little to do but take care of each other. The kids with no school. The elderly with no hospital. And they clean up just in case the tourists ever decide to come back.


HARLOW: Let's hope they do, for sure. Bill Weir on the ground. Thank you for that reporting.

Ahead, a historic night for the Los Angeles Dodgers. A very emotional one for the hero of the game. That's ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The team picture on the field in Wrigley on the same field --



[09:53:39] BERMAN: All right, for the first time in 29 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers headed to the World Series. The night belonged to Dodger Enrique Hernandez. His bat in Chicago, but his heart may be back in Puerto Rico.

HARLOW: Indeed. CNN Sports anchor Coy Wire has more on this remarkable story. What a night and what significance now amid everything.


Good morning, Poppy and John.

Back in 1988, voters were gearing up to choose either George H.W. Bush or Michael Dukakis to be president. John Berman couldn't even vote. Just a 16-year-old schoolboy north of Boston and 12 Dodgers players weren't even born yet, including Kike Hernandez.

The Dodger's utility man was a one-man wrecking crew. Three home runs against the Cubs, including a grand slam. Before the game, Kike talked to his mother, still in Puerto Rico and feeling the effects of Hurricane Maria. She would watch this game at his grandparents' home on a television powered by a generator. When they talked, he told his mom that he was going to hit a home run. Well, she saw her son make history.

Seven RBIs was a league championship series record. Kike wants to be with his family in Puerto Rico as soon as possible. His dad, though, was at the stadium almost one year to the day after finding out his cancer went into remission.


ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: My body is here but my mind's kind of back home. You know, it's hard -- it's hard being away from home with what's going on. And, you know, to be able to do this in a stage like this against the Cubs that beat us last year and to get us to the World Series, it's -- it's amazing. I honestly can't put it into words and all I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug.


[09:55:11] WIRE: And L.A. hugs you.

Make it rain champagne. The new National League champions await the winner of the Yankees/Astros series. And the Yankees can advance with a win tonight in Houston. The Dodgers now have a five days rest and they will host home field advantage throughout the World Series.

BERMAN: They're good at baseball. Coy Wire, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

WIRE: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right, Representative Frederica Wilson fighting back against President Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Her hear CNN's exclusive interview, next.


HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

New this morning, CNN has learned that the FBI is joining the investigation into the ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers in Niger.

[10:00:03] This as the feud intensifies over the president's condolence calls to the family of one of these men, La David Johnson. It left his family offended and angry, which in turn left the White House offended and angry.