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Bush, Obama Blast Trump over Divisive Politics; Ryan Jokes about Trump at Roast; Inside Underground ISIS Prisons in Raqqa; Puerto Rico Recovery Effort Slow. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:20] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Unusual set of circumstances. You have former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both taking a rare step and speaking out about the divisive state of American politics. They didn't mention President Trump by name, but they were talking about him. Take a listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened partisan conflicts. Bigotry seemed emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done together in a practical way, we've got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry --


OBAMA: -- to demonize people who have different ideas --


OBAMA: -- to get the base all riled up.


CUOMO: All right. Let's bring back John Avlon, and CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Professor, let's start with the idea of when has this happened before. You have the last three GOP standard barriers. You had Romney, McCain, and George W. Bush talking about this president in a way that doesn't show complete embrace or acceptance. You have President Obama and Bush coming out at a very close time talking like this. Have you heard of anything like this before?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, no. It is sort of the cavalcade of criticism of Trumpism and the idea that nativism is replacing nationalism. George W. Bush gave a brilliant speech yesterday. I think it's the finest of his post presidency. He invoked God a number of times. He closed it with we shall overcome. He is deeply concerned about what's going on in America. And I think Charlottesville was a turning point, a pivot point for George W. Bush. He was trying to stay in Dallas. He wrote a memoir. Built his library. He is not hungering to be in the political fray. But he felt if his voice wasn't added to the chorus of concern, he would be muting history. I see what's happened is John McCain led the way with that amazing speech a couple of days ago. Then it was followed by Bush and now Barack Obama. And the three of them together have quite a bit of really moral and, in some ways, they are all three folk heroes to boom. Their voices, their moral authority and their kind of cache does matter. And people are listening to them.

ALYSIN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Because, as you said, President Bush has studiously avoided the limelight since getting out of the presidency, it was really interesting to listen to him yesterday.

Let's just play another portion. Here he is talking about Martin Luther King Jr


[06:35:14] BUSH: We have become the heirs of Martin Luther King Jr, recognizing one another not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. This means that people of every race, religion, ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.



JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree with Doug that this is a powerful and historic speech from George W. Bush. Take a big step back. You rarely have presidents criticizing their successors, implicitly explicitly, let alone from the same party, let alone in the last week, John McCain, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all singing from the same hymn book, condemning bigotry. When Bush said bigotry seems emboldened, out policy seems susceptible to conspiracy theories, that is not a subtle slam against Trumpers. That is a direct result. What they see in the White House seems to be a departure from our best traditions and our better angels. There is a collective moral authority that comes from the figures all saying it at the same time. So this is the kind of thing that becomes a chapter in a future history book about our era. It is unprecedented to see it happen this way, at this stage, from the same velocity from so many figures.

CUOMO: Let's play Barack Obama that went to this point directly, about appealing to the better angels and calling out what has gotten us to this point.


OBAMA: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern them. (CHEERING)

OBAMA: You won't be able to unite them later, if that's how you start.


CUOMO: Professor, your take on that?

BRINKLEY: Barack Obama could have won a third term. He is an incredible orator. He did it yesterday.

I think Obama is a little different. It didn't take the bravery of what Bush did. Obama is there trying to get Democrats elected in New Jersey and Virginia. And he got back on the campaign trail. We remember when you hear his voice how he pulled it off two previous times.

He also, though, is one to stay on the sidelines. He has a big book advance for a memoir, just like Hillary Clinton did. You want to wait until your book comes out before you really go after Trump or go do the news cycle. But I think the politics, November elections in those states are looming and he felt he needed to get in.

AVLON: George W. Bush has been a folk painter for the last decade. Bushes really do try to talk a step back. When they feel compelled to come off the sidelines and speak in this way, it is about something much bigger. And folks forget, because the Bush presidency was so tarred by the legacy of the Iraq war. Both George W. Bush explicitly campaigned not only as compassionate conservative, using some of the same rhetoric we hard last night, but as a uniter, not a divider. At the end of the day, that was Barack Obama's appeal to the presidency as well. When you reflect on that --


CAMEROTA: That didn't always work. I'm sorry to have to address that.

AVLON: That's fine.

CAMEROTA: Let's not get too sentimental here. It isn't like


CAMEROTA: -- the Democrats were always about uniting and not dividing.

AVLON: No, no. I explicitly said the Republicans, specifically said the successful Republican candidates have been uniting not dividing. Folks play service to that rhetoric. How sincere they are, we can debate. When Republicans say, well, Barack Obama was a polarizing figure in American politics. Maybe among their base. That wasn't true with husband fundamental campaign appeals. When you look at the fundamental campaign appeals of a John McCain railing against polarization and hyper-partisanship, George W. Bush, compassionate conservative, a uniter, not a divider, and Barack Obama, there are no red states, no blue states, they are the United States, you see a mainstream of American politics of political leadership that tries to unite people. What Donald Trump has done from day one is disregard that by intentionally doing the politics of division, not --


CUOMO: Look, one thing that has to be said is, it worked. The idea that these are grand statements by man of significant mettle and impact, but will they have impact right now? Will they change the minds of anybody who supports the president? You have to believe the answer is no.

Last night, we saw a very different take on the politics of today, and how it should be regarded, by Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been certainly quiet in critical moments. Not last night. It was the Al Smith Dinner. He was getting his jokes on. Listen to this.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I know last year that Donald Trump offended some people. I know his comments, according to critics, went too far. Some said it was unbecoming of a public figure. And they said that his comments were offensive. Well, thank God, he's learned his lesson.


Every morning, I wake up in my office and I scroll Twitter to see which tweet that is I'll have to pretend I did not see later on.


You know, at one point, the president actually insulted me. I know that sounds kind of surprising.


He described me as a Boy Scout who was boring to talk to. It didn't hurt my feelings. What hurt my feelings was when my wife agreed with him.



[06:40:28] CUOMO: He was funny. Professor, he was funny. But in contrast, you have the presidents come out and talking. The men and women in leadership largely silent. But what is the effect of going out there last night? The president was not in the audience of the Al Smith Dinner. What's the impact of this type of rhetoric?

BRINKLEY: Al Smith Dinner is a wonderful tradition. It is a way to bring levity to national politics. But laughing like we all just were, listening to Paul Ryan, reminds us how Donald Trump's humor is just off because it's always about praising himself. Just yesterday, he said America was a 10 out of 10 in Puerto Rico. That he did perfectly there. We all know he didn't do perfectly there. I think he finds it funny when he does that. But it falls flat. Paul Ryan went back to a roast-style funny humor, and it was nice to hear.

CAMEROTA: It is nice to have some levity. It is so different, it's so off tone from what everything else is, it seems startling.


AVLON: And refreshing. Self-deprecating humor is a different universe than where Donald Trump lives. But that's actually the heart of American humor at its best. And it was good to see sort of cutting through some of that last night.

CUOMO: The difference is, President Trump wasn't joking when he gave himself a 10 out of 10 --

AVLON: No, no.

CUOMO: -- in Puerto Rico, even though it is a laughable assertion. It is laughable, given the crisis in Puerto Rico. It would be nice to hear Paul Ryan talk like that when he's not joking --


CUOMO: -- show a little leadership to get up there and give voice to what is good and bad in our government.

Gentlemen, appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, John.

Coming up on NEW DAY, an exclusive interview with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. We'll get her reaction to President Trump and General Kelly's comments about her. We'll also find out how the Johnson family is doing today.

CUOMO: You may be familiar with the "Despacito." The music video shot in the La Pella (ph) neighborhood of old San Juan. Of course, before the storm. That neighborhood is in ruins. A month after Hurricane Maria, is it a 10 out of 10? We'll take you there. This picture gives you your answer.


[06:45:38] CUOMO: U.S.-backed Syrian forces officially declaring Raqqa, ISIS's former capital in Syria, liberated from the terrorists. There are huge questions about who is going to govern, how do you live there, how do you make it so this population doesn't fall prey to extremism again?

CNN's Arwa Damon is live in Raqqa at a stadium where ISIS fighters made their last stand -- Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris. That's exactly why the ceremony is taking place here with the U.S. coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces handing over control of the city of Raqqa to the Raqqa Civilian Council. These are the people who are going to undertake the enormous task of trying to rebuild this utterly devastated city.

Speaking of ISIS making its last stand here, you can see right across the field the sandbags that lead down into the lower levels of this stadium. This is where ISIS punched through the walls between the various rooms creating at rat-run for themselves. They have a fairly complex tunnel system that may still be boobytrapped, may still have mines. No one has gone down there yet. And it's also where ISIS handled a number of prisoners. It is believed to be the largest prison in Raqqa. Surrounding this stadium is that destruction that you were talking about. What is so critical as this stage, as you were mentioning, is to ensure that not just is the city rebuilt but also the fabric of the society here that also has been utterly destroyed -- Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Arwa, it is incredible to have you on the ground with you reporting, to see all that video. It is impossible to get our minds around how that city and the fabric of that culture can ever be rebuilt. But we can see that they're trying.

Arwa, thank you so much for being in Raqqa for us.

One month after Hurricane Maria hit, much of Puerto Rico is also in ruins. A live report on any progress there, next.


[06:50:44] CAMEROTA: One month ago today, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. President Trump is giving his administration a 10 out of 10 for its response so far, but the island is still desperate for the basics, especially water and power.

CNN's Bill Weir is live in San Juan for us. He's right in the neighborhood that was made famous by the song "Despacito."

How are they doing today, Bill?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are not doing well, Alysin. It is another example of living hour by hour, day by day here. The word is from the man in charge of Puerto Rico that they might have power back by Christmas. Imagine that. It has been out for a month. Maybe you'll get it back by Christmas.

The people who deserve a 10 out of 10 are those who live here with the grace, dignity and passion for one another.

But since power is the story of the day, we went looking for answers, and, yes, it took us to a neighborhood you might actually recognize.



WEIR (voice-over): It is this most popular music video ever. (SINGING)

WEIR: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" has been viewed on YouTube over four billion times.


WEIR (voice-over): 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 Palla (ph). For years, this place was written off as being drug and gang invested. Community organizers fought against that stigma. There hadn't been a murder here in six years. And then came Despacito, and, suddenly, this rough side of town was a tourist destination. The economy started to blow up. People felt good about themselves. But then came Maria.

Now you have an outbreak of conjunctivitis among children. The clinic is without power. There's no roof on the school. And there's hope that help is coming anytime soon.


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

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


WEIR: Doctor Rosita shows me around the powerless hospital where cardiograms and electronic medical records are worthless.

Is it true that Luis Fonsi donated a generator?


WEIR: Five generators.

They are trying to get it installed but they have to go to the mayor's office and fill out paperwork, she tells me.

You need permission? Oh, my gosh.

(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.

(on camera): There are countless hospitals, centers, homes depending on power that runs through that. Those lines, that's the artery, the main spinal column of the power system. Maria devastated it, crushed it. So how do you fix it? These guys who aren't afraid of heights. You send them up to heal the lines.

(voice-over): They are journeymen linemen, contracted by White Fish 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.

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

ANDREW TECHMANSKI, CEO, WHITE FISH ENERGY: We've been around for a few years. And we specialize in h difficult and mountainous terrain projects. 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, the publicly owned utility known for high prices, rolling blackouts, and $9 billion debt.

(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 when you come down here and you see what I have seen, and you have that skill set that can have an immediate impact on the people here, it becomes a mission. So we --

WEIR: Not just a job?

[06:55:02] TECHMANSKI: It's not a job, no. It became a mission.

WEIR: How long before juice is flowing through here?

TECHMANSKI: That's a good question. We hope to have this line up in the next three to four days.

WEIR: The government is saying 95 percent power back by Christmas?

TECHMANSKI: Yes, exactly.

WEIR: Is that reasonable?

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

WEIR: A lot more?

TECHMANSKI: A lot more than we have here today.

WEIR: Yes.

(voice-over): Whitefish say they have 300 linemen on the island with another 700 on the way while, they wait for 100 bucket trucks and bulldozers still stuck in Florida ports.


WEIR (on camera): You're welcome. (voice-over): So as anyone's guess as to when they will have the lights back on La Palla (ph). Until then, there is little to do but to take care of each other. Kids with no schools, the elderly with no hospital, and they clean up, just in case the tourists ever decide to come back.


WEIR: White Fish is not the only power game in town. A multi- million-dollar contract was given to a more established company yesterday. But Senator Marco Rubio says after his meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers, they're still coming up with the plan, power restoration plan, more than a month out -- Alisyn, Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Bill. The president, as you heard, gave himself a 10 out of 10 for the response there. The reality on the ground very different.

Our thanks to Bill on the reporting.

President Trump lashing out at Congresswoman Frederica Wilson again, calling her a liar for the way she characterized his phone call with the widow of a fallen soldier. The congresswoman will respond here this morning in an exclusive live interview. That is next.