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Hurricane Florence Threatens Carolinas and Virginia; New Polls Show Drop in Support for President Trump; Interview with Saxby Chambliss. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 8:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A number of people have come out and said that Woodward never even reached out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can't figure out if they're denouncing leaks or lies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump is publicly blasting a lot of the quotes in it as fiction and fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We better wake up. This is not partisan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota on John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, September 11th. It is 8:00 in the east. And we do begin with breaking news right now. There is a hurricane watch that stretches from South Carolina to the North Carolina/Virginia border as hurricane Florence barrels towards the U.S. coastline. This is a category four storm. At this hour, it is packing winds of 130 miles per hour, but it is on track to be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the eastern sea board in decades. Florence could still intensify to a category five storm by the time it makes landfall, which is predicted either Thursday night or Friday morning somewhere along the Carolina coastline.

So let's check out this view of hurricane Florence from space. This is the International Space Station. It is very cool to watch how this churns. It is capturing the incredible size while this is hovering over the Atlantic.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: More than one million people are now under mandatory evacuation orders in coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. That includes the entire South Carolina coast as of noon today. In North Carolina, parts of six coastal counties in Hatteras Island, you can see it all there on the map, also being evacuated. Just moments ago on NEW DAY, FEMA chief Brock Long called for North Carolina's entire coastline to pay very close attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: I believe that people should be evacuating the coast of North Carolina for the category four storm, particularly get out of the areas that are vulnerable to coastal storm surge inundation and get into a facility that can withstand the winds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You can already see signs that folks are paying attention, boarded up homes, long lines at gas stations. Some of those gas stations already running out of fuel. And look at that. first it was amazing at the hardware store, but here, a lot of Nutella. But besides Nutella --

CAMEROTA: How can Nutella be left? I would get that first.

BERMAN: That would be the first thing that would go.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: I want to begin our coverage with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers who has the new advisory and the track. Chad, what are we seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: As we expected, the NOAA Hunter aircraft went through the eye and found 120. That's what we expected because the eyewall is going through a replacement cycle. This may be the smallest that this number gets for a very long time because when that eyewall gets itself back together later today, it's going to go back up to 140 and maybe even to 150.

That beautiful picture there from the NOAA News 16 satellite picture, there you go. What an amazing shot. The sun just rising on this storm in the Atlantic right now. Here is the problem. You're looking at 130. You need to be looking at 150. And then 145 because this storm is going to get stronger before it makes landfall. This will have a bubble of storm surge in the 20-foot range, somewhere. I don't know if that's Wilmington yet, because you're still in the cone. I don't even know if that's Cape Hatteras, because you're still in the cone. What I do know is that the cone is getting smaller to the south and not getting as far to the north as we work our way toward landfall.

But now what happens is that the storm stalls and has no direction at all. And in fact, this cone gets wider. It could be back offshore. It could be all the way down into Georgia by the time five days comes around. The rub there is not so much that it will be windy is that we're going to get rainfall, 20 inches of rainfall in some spots is completely possible. Here are your watches all the way from Charleston to Kill Devil Hills. As the storm gets closer, the cone gets smaller and hurricane warnings will be issued either later today or into tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: Chad, thank you very much for explaining all of that. So evacuations are beginning for residents along the Carolina coast line. For more than one million people the order to leave is now. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, with more. What's the latest, Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, actually I just went and put my feet in the water, and you wouldn't believe how warm the water is. The local office for the National Weather Center explained to me the significance of that. They say typically this time of year the water temperatures in the low 80s. At their last measurement it was 88 degrees. Optimal circumstances for a hurricane to do the worst kind of damage.

And so life-threatening storm surge, the concern in this area 15 to 20 feet. Where I'm standing that would mean would be underwater. Preparations underway. You mentioned more than a million people expected to evacuate right here on Carolina Beach, one of those barrier islands protecting the city of Wilmington. They want everybody out by 8:00 tomorrow. That's when they expect that tropical storm force winds to be in this area. Local officials saying if you stay here that means you are doing so at your own risk. You'll be on your own. John and Alisyn?

[08:05:00] BERMAN: All right, Kaylee Hartung. Kaylee, thank you very much. Joining me is Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center. Director, thank you for being with us. We just heard from our EMANUEL: Chad Myers, but what more can you tell us about the size, the direction and the timing of this storm?

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, I think one of the big factors is that we're just not talking about impacts inside the cone. We just always got to remind people inside the cone is where we could see the center of this system. And look at what happens inland. It could be anywhere in these areas. But I think one of the big factors we have to look at. We take these forecast points. The closer these lines are together, that means this thing is slowing down. And when we slow down like that over land, that's going to compound our issues with storm surge and also the heavy rain. So water is going to be a huge story in addition to incredible windfall at the landfall. A lot of winds. A lot of trees down and power outages.

BERMAN: Talk to me about the storm surge. How much are we talking, and do you have a sense of where?

GRAHAM: We're really looking at it here. We can kind of zoom in. We can zoom in like this, but I think it's really important if I go ahead and show a situation like this where we have a whole storm surge watch. Anywhere in these areas here can see greater than three foot. And this is an important point with the storm surge. When I go to this map, it is not just a coastal issue all the time. You have the barrier islands where you can get these big storm surge values. But here is where it also causes problems. We're really concerned about some of these areas where the water filters in and then where it piles up, where it can't go anywhere, you could get 10 to 12 foot of storm surge. That's just life-threatening. It's very dangerous.

BERMAN: And then they rain. We keep hearing two feet, 20 to 30 inches of rain. How many days? And, again, do you have a sense of where? GRAHAM: We're really looking at that. It is an incredible amount of

rainfall, again, very life threatening. And we talk about not just a coastal issue. This is well inland. Look at this graphic, 15 to 20 inches of rain in some of these areas here. But we are looking at potentially isolated areas being up to 30 inches of rain. That is life-threatening in these areas that are going to get this rain fall. So we're looking a big portion of Virginia and North Carolina. And look at this, even going into Maryland and Pennsylvania. But remember where these colors are close together, you can shift this quite a bit depending on the track.

BERMAN: And I will note a lot of the ground there is already saturated because they had more rain than usual already this season. So many of us who watch these hurricane forecasts over the last few years, we've become familiar with the European models and the American model, the spaghetti model, the paths of these storms. Can you give us a sense of what the difference is between the two and why the difference, and what that difference can mean?

GRAHAM: It is interesting when you look at the models. People think it is just merely looking at the hurricane. But in reality, you are looking at high pressures and low pressures, sometimes 500 to 1,000 miles away. So little differences in how those are measured and how those are calculated in the models can make a big difference in where they try to steer these systems.

It's interesting, because if you look at one or two models, you may see differences. They may flip-flop back and forth. But here at the Hurricane Center we actually use something called ensemble. So in fact we're looking at dozens and dozens of runs of those models. And if you go back in time and really take the consensus of all those models, our forecast really hasn't changed that much even if you go back through the weekend. So what you've got to do is look at all those different models and try to find a consensus, an average, so to speak, and that really hasn't changed that much. And that's why we're pretty confident at least where this direction is so far.

BERMAN: We spoke to one of your hurricane hunters earlier in the show who told us from the air that he sees nothing in the path of this storm to slow it down in terms of the wind speed, in terms of it gathering strength. A different question is, is there anything that could change the forecast that you see? Anything that could push this storm one way or another?

GRAHAM: Out ahead of Florence here, this whole area right here is just incredible warm in terms of ocean temperature. But those measurements at the surface. But if you look at the heat content, that warm water goes deeper into the ocean. So, no, the ocean is not going to be a factor. It's going to be basically helping out this storm stay the same, a major hurricane. And in the atmosphere itself we don't see shear, we don't see anything that could prevent this from being a major hurricane. It is so important that we realize some of the wind fluctuating, you will see 140 miles an hour, you'll see 130 miles an hour. It naturally fluctuates like that. So that is not what we really need to concentrate on. No matter what, we're going to have a major hurricane headed for the Carolina coast. BERMAN: And nothing in its wake. Ken Graham, thank you very much for

going over with us some of these models, some of these pictures so we get a sense of just what's about to happen. Thank you, sir.

CAMEROTA: We'll keep an eye, obviously, on Florence. But let's also talk about other big news today, and that is politics. President Trump's approval rating is down. In this new CNN poll it has fallen six points in just the last month. It is now at 36 percent. So how is the White House responding to this? There is just 56 days left until the midterms. What effect will this have on the midterms?

Joining us now are CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN political director David Chalian. Great to see you. David Gregory, so it has gone down six points, as we said, in the past month to 36 percent.

[08:10:01] Among independents, let me put this up for you, the all- important voters, it is also down. It has hit, in fact, an all-time low. It is now at 31 percent, President Trump's approval rating. Just a month ago it was at 47 percent. Your thoughts?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think one of the big issues for President Trump is that he is seen as a chaos agent, even among people who support him, or among people whose support might be a little softer for him because of his personal attributes, his leadership style, the chaos around him, the drama, the coarseness of his leadership style. All of those things I think can tend to undermine him among independent voters.

If you look at his core support, you do have to look at the tangibles that he's going to be running on, if this is a referendum on him, strong economy, strong stock market. Even if you look at the job market, wages going up. And for conservatives, what a lot of conservatives care about, look at the federal judiciary. Not just the Supreme Court, judges on the federal judiciary. But then of course Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, who despite criticism, looks to be moving toward nomination. Those are real tangibles. Even the trade business, which is volatile, is still really making good on an area that he promised. Those are strong signs for the president. But again, I think the personal chaotic part that we're seeing in the op- ed and the Woodward book, those things continue to hurt him.

BERMAN: So David Chalian, the CNN poll obviously the one we are most interested in. It's our poll. But what's truly fascinated here is that our poll is in line with just about every other group of numbers we have seen over the last week. Poll after poll has shown the president's approval rating dropping from August to September. So if you are a Republican running for Congress in one of 435 districts across the country, what do you think of these numbers? What do they tell you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: The absolute worst time I'd want to see the president's numbers head in this direction. You've got to step back here for a moment, John, and just remember the story of President Trump's numbers in polling throughout his entire presidency has been a story of stability. No matter what the headlines were, no matter what was going on, he operated in this very narrow band of mid to upper 30s to low to mid-40s. And you didn't see too much fluctuation there. We're still in that, obviously.

But your point that there have been five reputable national polls in the last couple weeks all showing a downward trend suggests to me that the president is indeed taking on water right now. And that independent number is huge because they are going to be critical to this midterm at precisely the wrong time with eight weeks to go to the midterms. If you are a Republican candidate, you are in any kind of district that is not ruby red, you are thinking about how to distance yourself from President Trump.

CAMEROTA: That was a live shot that we were just watching of President Trump and first lady, Melania, departing for Pennsylvania to obviously remember 9/11. Today is 9/11. It is also a Tuesday, the same day that 9/11 happened 17 years ago. And so they're headed to Shanksville, I believe, to be with some of the victims' families and to remember that moment.

So David Gregory, I just want to dive in a little bit more to some very interesting questions that were asked in this poll. I'm thinking of P-18. This is, does the president respect the rule of law? OK. So after everything we have seen with the people around him and how he's treating Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, et cetera, et cetera, 60 percent of the country says the president of the United States does not respect the rule of law. That is stunning. That's stunning. But again, I don't know that people vote on that. I mean, obviously their own purse-strings probably have more impact on their lives than their feeling about that.

GREGORY: Well, but I think what David said is really interesting. Yes, it is true the president is taking on water. So what is that about? And how do we parse that out? That poll result says to me a couple of things. There are a lot of people who look at the president's attitude toward the Justice Department, toward the rule of law, ordering Jeff Sessions to investigate people, treating the Justice Department like a kind of a collection of do-boys who are supposed to just exact political revenge on his opponents. People are very uncomfortable with that because it is a way of undermining what they consider to be the strength of American -- America and American institutions.

And that's part of the chaos agent piece. That's the part that people have a hard time squaring with their feelings about the economy or how the stock market is doing. And I think a lot of people were willing to compartmentalize and say, yes, the president rails against the press, or he goes too far. He's horrible toward women. But he's going to shake this place up and D.C. will be better for it. I think it's some of that support that is being eroded.

At the same time, he has a super energized base working against him, and that is that a lot of progressives in the country think that the world is ending politically and that Trump is responsible for that.

[08:15:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: At the same time, he's got a super energized base working against him, and that is a lot of progressives in the country think that the world is ending politically and that Trump is responsible for that. And so, there is a lot of energy that's moving against him.

But, again, I agree with David. You look at these independent numbers. You look at women, suburban voters. You look at college- educated voters who typically vote Republican but who may have also supported Obama. I think these are voters to watch in some of these key districts.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, there is one key difference here when people are sitting home saying, yes, but you said this about the polls in 2016. I -- one key difference here, he's not running against Hillary Clinton right now, who also had lots of problems in her numbers. There was a real comparison in a presidential election that allowed people who didn't like either of them to decide to go with the change agent in Donald Trump.

That doesn't exist here for him. So, yes, the economy, 69 percent of Americans thinking it's doing well. It's his highest approval number on any issue, 49 percent approval issue much, much higher than his overall 36 percent. That is the thing that is keeping him a float, as much afloat as he is right now.

But what he doesn't have is just a direct comparison against an opponent because the midterm is all about a referendum on him.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, he's not seeing divorce from each other, either that or as you're saying, the economy is actually keeping him as high as he is. The economy is propping him up at 36 percent. And look at the strongly disapprove numbers, and you guys are both touching on that. I think it's 48 percent, incredibly high, strongly disapprove number. That doesn't seem like a winnable group, David Gregory.

GREGORY: Yes, right. Right. Because, again, that speaks to how much energy there is against him. And what David was saying, he's not running against another candidate who's got other deficiencies. We know, you know, the majority of Trump voters was an anti-Hillary vote.

So, now, he's in a different proposition. He's leading the party. It is a referendum on him.

And again, there are lots of plus sides that people could vote for him and vote for the Republican Party. That's what they hope.

But this chaos agent piece, I mean, I go back to one of the things that I think really hobbled President Bush by the end of his presidency and helped candidate Obama, was the sense that Americans were uncomfortable with the sense of isolation in the world, being so controversial. This is what undermines Trump at a certain point, investigations, specter of impeachment, you know, leadership style, all this trouble from within. There is an amount of drama that starts to erode support.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. David Gregory, David Chalian, thank you both very much. CHALIAN: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. So, how can the White House turn this around? And what should Republican members of Congress do as they face tough re-election battles? We're going to speak to a former Republican senator, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:21:23] BERMAN: Our new CNN poll shows President Trump's approval rating plummeting six points in just a month to 36 percent. So why is that? And what can Republicans do about that facing the midterm elections?

Joining me now is a former Republican senator, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

And let me just say, I'm glad that it looks like Georgia will be spared the worst of this storm.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), FORMER GEORGIA SENATOR: Yes. We had our share of bad storms the last couple of years, John. And while I feel for the people of North Carolina and South Carolina, thanks so much. Hopefully, we're going to be blessed.

BERMAN: So, Senator, as we just said, the president's approval rating is at 36 percent, which is very, very low. You say that Democrats smell blood in the water. Why?

CHAMBLISS: Well, that's nothing new. It's been talked about this blue wave, so to speak, for the last six months. I think there was kind of a slow down of that conversation. But they're trying to generate it again and certainly when you have polling numbers like this and irrespective of numbers, even as a candidate, I never paid attention to the number. I did pay attention to the trend and the trend here is not good for the president, at least.

So I think it should be a concern to every candidate out there, but, John, every candidate has to run their own race, not nationalized, a congressional race in some part of the world. And if they do that without running away from the president because they need that base, then I think at the end of the day, that blue wave is not likely to be as big as some people are predicting it might be.

BERMAN: Even if it is a long time and you are smart to pay attention to the polling trends. And the polling trends are not good for the president. It's just not the CNN poll. It's really every poll we have seen over the last few weeks. Those numbers are ticking down.

Do you have a sense or a guess about why? What happened in the last month to push his numbers lower?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I think it's been a combination of things. It's not been a good month for the president in legal circles. It's not been a good month with op-eds. And, you know, he imposed more tariffs on China, which raises that issue once again. People are not particularly happy about that.

But at the end of the day, a lot of the president's decisions, John, are working. The economy is clicking along at a very hot pace. Their jobs out there, people are having a hard time finding employees. So, at the end of the day, if candidates are talking about the economy and asking the people to vote their pocketbook, then they are going to be in a much better position than they are worrying about polls and the take down from a presidential standpoint versus a candidate standpoint.

BERMAN: So, what do you do? Put yourself in the position of some of these candidates right now, because you said you have to run your race, don't let it be nationalized. But how can you avoid letting it be nationalized in this political environment? Because the president is ubiquitous in many ways in social media, on all kinds of media, and people are talking about him in all kinds of different ways than we've seen before.

And you also noted that this president is extremely popular with a (AUDIO GAP) section of the Republican base.

So can you run your own race successfully?

CHAMBLISS: It's not unusual for either Republicans or Democrats to try to nationalize a race. If you're in the minority for the most part, that's usually what you want to do, provided you have got the right candidate out there and you have got the right issues to talk about.

[08:25:08] And certainly in a lot of these congressional races, you are seeing different and stronger Democratic candidates than what we've seen before. And obviously there are issues out there.

But that part of Donald Trump, that base of Donald Trump really does like what he's doing. So, candidates have to be careful, John, not to alienate any of that group. You have to have that group energized and turned out, and then you concentrate on those independents and hopefully some crossover Democrats if you are in a marginal district.

But you just -- you can't just look at the polls and say, wow, this is a lost cause. You're not going to do that if you've got a good story to tell. And Republicans have a good story to tell with the economy.

BERMAN: Well, I don't think is packing up and going home yet, not with 56 days left to go, Senator.

CHAMBLISS: That's an eternity in politics.

BERMAN: It sure is.

What's your assessment of how the White House and the president handled this last round of stories? I'm talking about the op-ed in "The New York Times", I'm talking about the revelations inside the Bob Woodward book. Do you think the White House handled that deftly in the last few days?

CHAMBLISS: Well, I think that story has yet to play out obviously because Bob's book is coming out today. And, you know, the president has been railing and had other people railing against the op-ed, even Democrats. So, the big story switched from the excerpts of the Woodward book to the op-ed and the White House did a pretty good job of deflecting that.

Now, with the Woodward book coming out today, it will be interesting to see if all of the focus is on that and how much negative -- how much in the way of negative stories comes out of that.

The secret for the White House is, get this out there. Get it off the table. Let's get back to the economy. That's going to be their challenge (ph).

BERMAN: This final question, Senator, here. You know, some of the Republicans we talk to on TV or behind the scenes, you know, Bob Corker says it outright, that some of these suggests inside the book in the op-ed, they're not new. They have been hearing them for 18 months, since the president has been in office, that there are people inside the administration concerned about the president's behavior.

Have you heard that?

CHAMBLISSS: I think that's no secret. You know, there's been an awful lot of turnover within this White House. That's -- it's a little bit more unusual to have this much in the first two years than after the first two years. So, obviously, there is turmoil there.

But, you know, these are difficult times. This president is having to make some hard and tough decisions. And those decisions don't set well with people inside the White House and outside on occasion.

So, there is that natural tension that comes out of North Korea, out of China, out of other major issues that this president is having to deal with.

BERMAN: Senator Saxby Chambliss, pleasure to have you with us. Thanks so much, sir.

CHAMBLISS: Sure. Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, there are mandatory evacuations to tell all of you about. These affected more than a million people in the Carolinas and Virginia as Hurricane Florence barrels towards the Eastern Seaboard. So, South Carolina's governor is going to join us next.

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