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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans Targeting Health Care; Special Counsel Focusing on Trump's Actions in Office; Hurricane Maria Slams Puerto Rico; Search for Survivors Following Mexico Earthquake; Iran's President Threatens to Resume Enriching Uranium; Interview with Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with the breaking news that is both in the world and in the national lead.

Two forces of nature leaving rescue crews scrambling to saves lives at this hour. In Mexico, that powerful 7.1 earthquake now to blame for at least 125 deaths, much of the attention now focused on a crumbled school building, where crews say that they saw a hand move.

They believe that they are very close to finding a little girl trapped in the rubble. We will have much more on that story. And, of course, if they find her, we will bring that to you live.

But first to the national lead. Officials in Puerto Rico telling us that the entire island, 3.4 million people, is out of power as it takes a beating from Hurricane Maria almost 10 hours now after first making landfall. Maria crossing Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, snapping trees in half, ripping other trees right out of the ground. At times, hurricane-force winds covering the entire island.

On Puerto Rico's east coast, where Maria made landfall, a CNN crew watched the storm rip part of the roof right off their hotel.

On the U.S. Virgin Islands, damage reports are hard to get after Maria's passing. Communication there is sporadic and spotty. Some there are relying upon Facebook to ask about others who are missing.

Let's begin with CNN Leyla Santiago. She's in the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan.

Leyla, earlier today, you were being pummeled by high winds. It was tough for you to stand. What are conditions like there now?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's still some rain coming down, Jake.

So a little windy, but not anything near what we saw earlier. The big problem now is that the rain continues. And take a look behind me. There is quite a bit of flooding that has come as a result. Many of the major roads impassable.

But to use that white van sort of as a point of reference of what I'm seeing right now, you can see it's coming up on the back bumper. And it has come up pretty quickly from when we first got here. And this is not the worst we have seen. We have seen crews -- we have sent crews, rather, out and about in Puerto Rico.

And they have seen the highways. Major highways are impassable. But let met walk around here show you the damage that we're seeing in this area of San Juan and specifically we are in the Condado area of San Juan.

Take a look at this roof or part of the roof that came down on this street. I actually talked to a woman who lives right across the street. And she says, when she heard it, Jake, she thought it was the entire building. That's just how loud it sounded when this came down.

And this is just another example of why roads are blocked. It's not just the flooding. It's all of the debris that is out and about. And I have to tell you, one of the things that's really caught my attention, you can see that there are people walking around in the area.

They are coming out to sort of assess the damage, people peering outside their windows. And they just have this -- this sort of look of disbelief. It's like they are fazed and in shock when they see all of this debris, the damage done to the buildings.

These buildings, all of these buildings, I can hear generators right now. These buildings are without power; 100 percent of the island right now, according to the governor, is without power -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thank you very much.

CNN's Rafael Romo is in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, near the northeast coast of the island.

Rafael, you had to seek shelter as Hurricane Maria was making landfall.

What's happening now where you are?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Changing conditions, basically.

A couple of hours ago, for a brief moment, it was sunny and then the weather started deteriorating again. And now we see some ominous clouds and a little bit of rain.

But let me show you some of the debris all around me. This big limb from a palm tree, also chunks, really big chunks of insulation from some of the buildings around us. Multiply this scene by 1,000 or even more, and that's what you find, not only around here, Fajardo, but all over the island. And that's a situation that Puerto Rico is facing. And let's

remember, Jake, only two weeks ago, this island was pummelled by another hurricane, Hurricane Irma, and it is still trying to recover from that when it happened all over again.

Now, the winds this morning were incredible. For a moment, we felt like the windows on our roofs were going to explode, and we had to make the decision as a team to get out of there and seek shelter. That was the same thing that dozens of people did, and luckily nothing happened to anybody. But it was definitely very, very dangerous.

Now, what's going to happen now? We have an entire island without power. But the governor says, no matter how much it costs, they are going to get back on their feet -- Jake.

[16:05:00]

All right, Rafael Romo in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, thanks so much.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

TAPPER: Joining me on the phone now is Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon. She's the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon, thanks so much for joining us.

First, how are you and your community holding up at this hour?

JENNIFFER GONZALEZ-COLON, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT COMMISSIONER: Still inside the house, because we can't go outside.

There are still tropical storm winds across the island. And that means up to 75-mile-per-hour winds. So it's dangerous, it's hazardous to go outside and even check damage or debris that is all over the place.

The main issue is that the whole island is without power. And for the people who are living in the mainland, they have got friends or families in Puerto Rico, they must know that a lot of communication towers went offline.

So if they are trying to call their families or their friends in Puerto Rico, they are not going to reach them because communications are off. And that's the main situation we have got right now.

The second one is the flooding. We received between 18 to 35 inches of rain, which means the whole area is flooded. A lot of the rivers overflowed their banks. And that's a dangerous situation. It is a monster here storm, again, that hit us very hard, less than two weeks we have been hit by Irma.

So, in less than a month, the United States got -- faced two -- three major hurricanes, two of them here in Puerto Rico.

I spoke last night with Vice President Mike Pence and FEMA Director Brock Long and other members of the Cabinet regarding how are we going to put Puerto Rico back on track, considering the financial situation Puerto Rico got into in recent years.

And thank God Vice President Pence conveyed the message that the president of the United States and the whole government is going to be helping out the island. As a matter of fact, there are more than 400 rescue teams and federal employees from all over the nation waiting until it is safe to go outside and begin the search-and-rescue. They're already on the island.

So that's our main issue right now. We can't go outside. Still a lot of raining, a lot of windy, tropical storm. The team of regional directors just told me that they are expecting to have a clear sky, in terms of sending the rescue team outside to see the debris and the damage, between midnight and tomorrow morning.

And that means make the assessment of the airport, the ports on the islands. All ports and airports are a (INAUDIBLE) level, which means nothing get in, nothing get out.

So, one of the issues we may need a lot of help is first recover the power grid and get electricity back on. And to that extent, FEMA director and even the vice president told us that they are considering sending electrical teams to help us out. The second one will be restoring the -- when the goods that are needed in the islands that are so important to get through this situation.

[16:10:10]

TAPPER: All right, Representative Gonzalez-Colon, thank you. Please stay safe. We appreciate the update.

Still ahead: back to that breaking news in Mexico, a desperate search happening now in a school crumbled because of yesterday's powerful earthquake. We are going to go live to Mexico City.

Plus, New York City Michael Bloomberg pushing back on President Trump's praise of the economy, why he says Wall Street's booming business right now should give us reason to pause. I will talk to the mayor live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We are following two breaking news stories, rescue crews in Mexico City working right now to try to save children trapped in the rubble after that horrific earthquake there.

[16:15:03] Also, of course, Hurricane Maria's devastation, all of Puerto Rico, the entire island without power.

But we're going to turn for a minute to another story in our world lead. Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, ratcheting up the tension between the United States and Iran after President Trump said the Iran nuclear deal was, quote, an embarrassment for the U.S. in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Rouhani just responded to that speech, calling President Trump's speech baseless and offensive.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live outside Trump Tower for us.

And, Jeff, world leaders gathered at the U.N. summit are anxious to see whether President Trump will tear up the Iran deal. He is not yet saying what he will do.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jake. President Trump is dealing with two new confrontations on his hands. But earlier today when he was meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, he was asked directly about his plans for that nuclear agreement and if he made up his mind.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Have you decided to stay or to leave?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have decided.

(CROSSTALK)

REPORTER: I'll let you know. I'll let you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, the president there is saying he has decided if he will keep the U.S. in or withdraw the U.S. from that agreement. Of course, he blasted that yesterday in his speech to the U.N., but not disclosing what his decision is. Jake, but the Iranian president in no uncertain terms, he said, look, the country does not want to create a nuclear bomb. They plan to do enrichment only. He compared his ambitions to Japan.

But when asked about President Trump specifically at a press conference today here in New York, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. HASSAN ROUHANI, IRAN (through translator): Yesterday, Mr. Trump was extremely offensive to the people of Iran. And before anything, we are waiting for President Trump to issue apology to the people of Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIPP)

ZELENY: So, an apology for the people of Iran clearly not coming from this president, Jake, but it does raise the question in the next few weeks or so, will President Trump carry through with a campaign promise to rip up that nuclear agreement. And what affect does that have on the other confrontation in North Korea? All one of the biggest challenges he's dealing with here as he has one more day of meetings tomorrow, Jake, here at the U.N.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Joining me now is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he's chairing the Bloomberg Global Business Forum today with more than 50 heads of state and 250 CEOs.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Jake, happy to do it.

TAPPER: So, yesterday, the president suggested he was prepared to tear up the Iran deal. He called it an embarrassment to the U.S. Iran's President Rouhani you just heard responded, saying America would destroy its own credibility by altering or ending the agreement.

What do you think? Should the deal be renegotiated? Should it be ended it all together. Should it be kept as is?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I'm not an expert on this, and certainly, plenty of arguments on both sides. Whatever we should do, we should do it diplomatically. Sit and talk across the table rather than do it in the public. I think that's not the right way to make policy.

TAPPER: I'm wondering what your response was to President Trump's speech at the U.N. yesterday. Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu called the speech by President Trump one of the boldest and most courageous in 30 years of dealing with the U.N. that he's ever seen.

Do you agree with that characterization?

BLOOMBERG: I don't think so. I think that the speech was very unconventional. I'm not so sure that I think it should be given in a diplomatic community. There are other places to express yourself and to say that.

And probably, the next time I think the president should have called in the Iranian ambassador and said what he disagreed with and see if there is ways to fix it and make it acceptable to both. A public he said/she said or yelling at each other doesn't really add anything.

TAPPER: President Trump taking to Twitter this morning slamming Hillary Clinton for her criticism of his threat to, quote, completely destroy North Korea if they threaten the U.S. or its allies, or his reference to Kim Jong-un as, quote, rocket man.

This is what the president wrote, quote: After allowing North Korea to research and build nukes, while secretary of state, Bill Clinton also, crooked Hillary Clinton now criticizes.

Yesterday, you said there is no attractive military option to the North Korean problem. But it's unmistakable, diplomacy has not worked either. What do you think should be done?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I think the lesson out of all of this is you have to work together. We cannot solve this problem by ourselves. And if there is any other country that we have to absolutely work together with in the North Korean problem, it's China, because they have the most impact on North Korea.

But it's not just China. It's South Korea. It's Japan. It's Europe. We are all in this together. And if you build relationships together, the world can pressure and the world can reason with and the world can boycott or not supply or do a lot of things together.

[16:20:10] But you can't do this alone. That's for sure.

TAPPER: And that's one of the themes of the Bloomberg Global Business Forums where CEOs and heads of state have been meeting today.

One of the items on agenda is immigration. The White House is trying to work with Democrats and Republicans to possibly find a legislative solution for the roughly 800,000 DREAMers in the U.S. One of the proposals might also fund --

BLOOMBERG: That's great. Couldn't agree more.

TAPPER: -- a border wall.

Do you -- would you go along with a border wall funding if it was part of a compromise package?

BLOOMBERG: I think a wall is not very practical. Number one, it would be almost impossible to build. It would be very good for the Mexican economy, because we probably have to buy all the cement from Mexico and use all Mexican labor since we don't have enough people down in that area that could work on it.

But the wall doesn't add anything. Keep in mind: more Mexicans are leaving the United States, going to Mexico than coming from Mexico. So, all the wall would do is keep them from leaving.

But we need to have borders where people that want to work here, want to take jobs that Americans don't want to take, and that want to create new businesses, can do so. And I'm all in favor -- nobody is more supportive of creating jobs for Americans.

But the ways you do it is not to walk away from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, not to walk away from global trade and create tensions with some of our trading partners, not to redo NAFTA, which has been a god send for Canada, the United States and Mexico.

All of these things, you can tweak them a little bit and make better. But if we want to have jobs for Americans rather than just posture, the ways to do it is to encourage trade, to encourage immigration. Every single reputable study ever done shows that immigrants come here and they create an awful lot more jobs than they take away, and we have to have the best and the brightest from around the world coming here, or they will go elsewhere and create the industries of the future and we'll be shut out.

TAPPER: Climate change also on the agenda at the Bloomberg Business Forum today. You are also the U.N. special envoy on cities and climate change. President Trump we are told was complaining earlier this week about the Paris climate change agreement, saying China got a good deal. U.S. did not.

What's your response to those who argue that the Chinese need to do much, much more than this deal would require them to do?

BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, the COP 21 agreement was structured to favor America, because they knew that Congress probably wouldn't approve anything. So the negotiators gave America a better break than anybody else.

Number two, we are halfway to accomplishing our goals already and we still have to go to the 2025. So, you've got another seven years to go. We are certainly going to make that.

Number three, I think it's true that whether China or any other country reduces their greenhouse gases, we all will benefit or suffer. If we reduce our greenhouse gases, we benefit as does everybody else. And it would be great if everybody did it, but even if everybody doesn't do it, that doesn't mean we should penalize ourselves by not doing what we can.

And I think the president has just been ill-advised by a handful of people that don't seem to understand what all the scientists say. And in any case, no matter what you think of climate change, and whether you believe it's happening or not, there is at least, you'd have to admit, a remote possibility that people are right that it really has a potential to destroy our world. And if that's the case, then you have no choice but to buy an insurance policy, which means stopping polluting and all of those kinds of things.

It is just totally irrational to not take precautions just in case. And if you were the head of a company and you went to your board and said, you know, I don't believe in climate change, we have that plant right by the water, but I'm not going to do anything. They would throw you out instantly. They would fire you. You will never see somebody on these television shows screaming about global warming being a hoax that works for a company because no company could put up with that.

If you have a plant near the water, you move the plant, you build a wall, you have a backup site, you buy an insurance policy, you have some alternative ways for your people to go. You don't just sit there and say, oh, this is bull. It isn't bull, number one. But even if you think it is, you are irrational if you don't take some precautions.

TAPPER: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, it's always great to have you on the show. Thank you so much, sir.

BLOOMBERG: Happy to do it. Good to see you, Jake. Goodbye.

TAPPER: Former President Barack Obama on the offense today. Next, his swipe at Republicans trying to dismantle Obamacare.

Plus, the silence that can save lives, that raised fists in Mexico stirring brief moments of hope after yesterday's quake.

[16:25:06] That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now.

The battle over health care reform playing out on late-night television. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel calling out Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana last night for his new Obamacare repeal and replacement bill, which Kimmel says would break a promise made by the Louisiana lawmaker that all pre-existing conditions would be covered, and there wouldn't be any discrimination against anybody with a preexisting, including his son Billy, who has a serious heart ailment and continues to battle it.

Cassidy referred to these parameters as the Jimmy Kimmel test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, lower premiums for middle class families and no lifetime caps.