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Interview with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz; Analysts Examine President Trump's Comments on Puerto Rico; President Trump Intensifies Feud with NFL Players. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR, SAN JUAN: Our bodies are so tired, but our souls are so full of strength that we will get to everyone we can get to. But the situation in the hospitals is something that has to be dealt with completely and in sustained spaces. Yesterday we took power to two elderly homes, to two elderly homes late at night, late at night. So the nuns that were there that take care of the elderly were really, really frantic. So have no doubt, first of all, that we appreciate all the help. We appreciate all the FEMA workers here. They are doing such a great job.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And I want to ask you about that, mayor, because I want to ask you if you are getting enough federal help, and I also want to ask you about President Trump's tweets, when he talks about the massive debt that Puerto Rico owes Wall Street and the infrastructure, the crumbling infrastructure in Puerto Rico that is in part to blame, what is your response to that?

CRUZ: First of all, we are getting a lot of logistics help. This is a massive undertaking, and of course it's makes it more difficult because we're an island and everything has to be shipped or flown in. That's number one.

Number two regarding President Trump, and with all due respect, these are two different topics. One topic is the massive debt, which we know we have and it's been dealt with. But you don't put debt above people. You put people above debt.

So what we are asking for and what I'm asking for, and this is only my comment, nobody else's comment, is let's deal with the two issues in a separate way because there is a humanitarian crisis here. People have financial problems of their own because of all the expenses they have had to incur. You know, the 60 percent of the people in Puerto Rico are under -- below the poverty line. So this is a population that does not have a lot of spending money, and they are doing their best. So I think the two issues have no reasons to be mangled.

We are thankful for any help that comes our way. Frankly there's a moral imperative of when somebody is in need, when somebody is in dire need, when somebody is in a life or death situation, there is a human moral imperative to deal with that situation first and then deal with any other situations coming your way.

CAMEROTA: So Mayor, what are you asking Trump for today? CRUZ: Well, number one, we need any help we can get, not only the

boots on the ground, but there is going to be some massive reconstruction funds that are going to be needed for infrastructure.

But there's something that can be done quickly and which was already done for Irma. The Jones Act, which makes everything that comes into Puerto Rico a lot more expensive, can be revoked, can be repealed. They did it, the Congress did it, and the president was OK with that for seven days with hurricane Irma. This is the time to make a permanent transition, or even a temporary transition for the next six months to allow not only for the goods and services that are coming into Puerto Rico to be a lot more affordable but, frankly, to allow people in Puerto Rico to have their cost of living be a lot more affordable. So that's one thing can be done.

CAMEROTA: Mayor, one question. Would it help for President Trump to go to Puerto Rico to see this for himself?

CRUZ: Honest to God we live in a world where you can see any part of the world, any part of the world through your phone or through any kind of electronic method. If you see the people and you touch the people and come really to touch and feel the horror and the pain and the devastation, that is one type of visit. If one comes and stays for a couple of hours and leaves, that's a different type of visit.

And I am sure that as the United States president, you know, he can come to Puerto Rico if he wants to. He has been not only tweeting, but I know that he has been in contact with the governor, and we all appreciate that.

[08:05:02] But let's make sure that this is not a handout. This is a moral imperative, and it's a plea for help, and it's a plea for us to be done right.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, thank you very much for your time. We will check back with you all week. Thanks for being with us.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 8:00 in the morning, so if you are just joining us, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

President Trump didn't say anything about the destruction of Puerto Rico for nearly a week. Since hurricane Maria made landfall, and remember, as you just heard, over 3 million Americans are crushed by the worst storm impact we've seen this season. Now, when President Trump did finally address the situation he tweeted and wrote the island is in, quote, "deep trouble," and then suggested it's their fault because of fragile infrastructure and financial problems.

CAMEROTA: And as that humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico unfolds President Trump continues to slam the NFL players that are kneeling during the National Anthem, focusing his criticism today on the Dallas Cowboys for taking a knee and locking arms in a show of solidarity during Monday night football.

So let's talk about all of this. Let's bring in our political panel. We have CNN political director David Chalian, CNN political analyst David Gregory, and CNN contributor Wesley Lowery. Let's talk Puerto Rico first. Wesley, you were just listening to the mayor of San Juan, and she has been so candid, she's been so emotional in these interviews because she sees the devastation and she touches it with her hands, and her biggest fear was that she wouldn't be able to get to people in time, and it sounds like that fear has been realized and she has had to deal with being too late to save some people.

WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of course, it's just heartbreaking to listen to the mayor of San Juan and to think these are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans who have been devastated by an act of God, by natural disaster, and that we have thus far been unable to get them all the resources that they need.

I think it's interesting because some of these conversations we've been parsing some of the politics of this, right. Should the president be addressing this more forcefully and should he be talking about this more often. And beyond that there's this desire sometimes and the question of how can we begin to assess the response of FEMA and other organizations?

When I listen to the mayor pleading on national television now a week after a hurricane to me suggests that perhaps we have not gotten them all the aid and resources they need. And so in the context of how our political leaders are discussing this, I think that further raises this question of whether or not tweets calling for the firing of NFL players perhaps would be better spent with links to where we could all donate resources to Puerto Rico.

CUOMO: David, that takes us to the role of leadership in the situation. There's no question that FEMA is working 24 hours a day, they had people in position, they have plan. We've heard it from Brock Long. The need is very great. Whatever is done is going to be inadequate. It's going to take a long time.

But what did we see in Irma and Harvey that we are not seeing here? The president putting his arms around the situation, commanding attention to it, telling lawmakers, you better get your butts back to Washington, and you better get this done right away. We need it. Get it to my desk. We are not seeing it here, and it could make a difference.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's no question about it. And I think that, look, there may be reasons why the president can't go to Puerto Rico at the moment because of the level of devastation. His homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, is there, and it may create different kinds of problems than the president going to Houston. I don't know the answer to that but that's certainly the potential given how the president has to travel.

But your point about setting a tone and raising the consciousness for Americans who have been paying such close attention to these storms and to the horrible impact, and Puerto Rico is an island, and it makes it so much more difficult to get resources there, and you have desperate situations. So I think this is a time for the president to use his bully pulpit to be as vocal as he can in support of Puerto Rico both in terms of the federal government but also getting the private sector involved in any constructive way to get help there. Americans have huge hearts and are willing and ready to be mobilized, and it's important that the president seize that opportunity.

CAMEROTA: David, last night was the first time the first the president tweeted or spoke out about the devastation of Maria since it made landfall almost a week ago. Why?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it's a good question, and clearly the White House has been slow off the mark in terms of the messaging around their response. As you're noting, the president a little late to this. But let's hope that they are gearing this up now, because obviously just listening to the mayor talk to you, these are Americans.

[08:10:00] There is no reason that this should not garner the same level of attention that did that the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida. And I will make a crass political analysis for a moment if you will allow me, which is that in our most recent poll Donald Trump got the highest marks of his presidency on any issue about how he responded to Harvey and Irma. You would think he would look at that and try to recreate exactly what he was doing there because they were the highest grades the American people have given this president for the entire course of his administration.

CUOMO: Wes, there's no question that there's a legitimate conversation that we sometimes have but it's usually inflamed by emotion around policing and a lot of issues driving players to their knees during the anthem. But putting it aside, imagine how different Donald Trump's week would be if he had done what the two Davids are suggesting and said forget about health care, forget about North Korea, forget about Iran, forget about whose e-mailing and how in my administration. How can you talk about any of that when we have what's going on in Puerto Rico, ongoing there. I'm all about this. You lawmakers, you better get a bill on my desk in a week, instead of what he did with the NFL. Imagine if he made that choice, but he didn't.

LOWERY: Unfortunately with this president it's hard to imagine him making that choice. But in a world in which he would do that or did do that, perhaps different presidents, I think each of the last two presidents, it's easy to imagine them making that choice like that. I think that in that world we would change this conversation completely.

I think very often in our politics we have a nostalgia and a feel- goodism, we like the ideas of unity and coming together. This is an instance in which, again, we have brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens who are suffering, many who will likely lose their lives in this, and if not their lives their entire livelihoods, and a nation is looking for someone to be a unifying force, looking for someone to tell them where to send money, where to send supplies, someone to use that pulpit to draw additional eyeballs and attention as David said earlier, shine a spotlight on an issue. It's telling and revealing when someone with a platform, someone holding the spotlight, what they shine it on is revealing about who they are and what their motivations are. GREGORY: And I think this is important. We have a president who is a

cultural warrior as a politician and as a president of the United States. That's where he likes to live, which is not to tap down controversy, it's to stoke it, it's to create it.

And he's a bystander in other ways, whether it's on major legislation like health care. What he doesn't realize is that the president can be a driver and be a driver in multiple directions at what time. Look at the vastness of media in the United States, so many outlets, so much time. You have an ability to drive several things at once.

And even, Chris and Alisyn, on the issue of policing, on the issue of the anthem, a major pop culture question coursing through sports, if he wants to get in the middle of this, the way he did it was to call them SOB's and to say that they don't love America because they are disrespecting the anthem. That is not how you start a conversation. That doesn't give room for people to have a real conversation and a real disagreement with different sides.

I have talked to people over the past few days who don't necessarily agree with the president, but they wish that the protests could go on in a different way. Imagine if you started your conversation there as opposed to they're a bunch of rich, spoiled SOBs. But that's what the president is doing.

CHALIAN: But David, it doesn't seem, at least to me, and tell me if you disagree, that he was actually looking to start a national conversation about this. I don't think that was the president's goal at all in the way he launched this.

GREGORY: You are absolutely right. But that's my point is that what a president should be doing, what a president can uniquely do, it doesn't mean you are always successful, but you can get into the middle of a fraught conversation and try to elevate it to a different level. He's putting these things on the agenda in a way to really create cultural backlash because he thinks it's good for him, and that's what he sees as success. Creating the great anger in the country he tweeted about, creating an issue that he can control. It doesn't matter how much blowback he gets. If he can create it, he thinks that's his contribution to the culture.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Wesley, the last word?

LOWERY: Exactly. Instead of appealing to our better angels, he's mobilizing our guttural demons, right. This is the president who was elected by stirring this type of discord. Whether you agree with him or not, we know this is a president that was elected by driving division. And it's unsurprising that this is still what is going on even, again, as we have fellow citizens who are fighting for their their lives.

CAMEROTA: We have President Trump's latest tweet. He just it appears, saw our interview with the mayor of San Juan. He is saying "Thank you to Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, for your kind words on FEMA, et cetera. We are working very hard, much food and water there on way." I hope -- we all hope and she hopes that that's true. That's what they need.


CUOMO: Well, the resources -- you know, the -- again, you know, you have to distinguish the leadership from the government function, you know, especially in this current administration. And, David Gregory, to the best of our understanding, FEMA had a plan, they embedded people in place, they have thousands of people there. The ports and the airport are wrecked. The infrastructure of the country is wrecked. Things are going to take time and it's a thousand miles away.

You know, they have the Red Cross, you know, the big frigate that they have down there, the port is not ready to unload those things. But this -- this is little tweet, you know, it took him 18 seconds, I bet you, to write it, it shows recognition of need. It shows people able to hear anything, any communication in Puerto Rico, that the leader of the free world cares. This is more than just a tweet to them and to people watching the situation, is it not?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: One of the -- yes, and one of the things that happened after Katrina is that the federal government really stepped up its game in the way that Homeland Security, and FEMA within Homeland Security coordinated with the White House and with state and local officials. This is in many ways the bureaucracy of local and federal and state government, but it's vitally important how they communicate, how they preposition resources and how they get resources thereafter the fact.

This president is a beneficiary of mistakes made in the past, and improvements that had been made, he's got a very good homeland security director and adviser who's on the ground. But it is the power to galvanize. That's what we've been talking about this morning, that's what a president can uniquely do.

And with that tweet, he's done a lot more to get peoples' minds focused on it, and to get the resources to follow. If we have enough attention and intention around it, we will have a tough environment to help.

CUOMO: Big part of the frustration is, he's right about Twitter. He has tremendous reach. It's just not hard for him to do the right thing.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

So, what is the feud between the president and the NFL really about, respect for the flag or something else, like race? Two former NFL players respond to the controversy, next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump intensifying his feud with the NFL on Twitter this morning over players kneeling during the national anthem.

[08:20:00] This as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva sets the record straight about why he stood alone during the national anthem on Sunday. Villanueva, an Army vet, he said it had nothing to do with him being more patriotic.


ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA, PITTSBURGH STEELERS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Every single time, you know, I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed to a degree because again like I said, unintentionally, I left my teammates behind. It wasn't me stepping forward. I never planned to boycott the plan that the Steelers came up with it. I just thought that there was going to be some middle ground where I could stand in the tunnel, and nobody would see me and then afterwards I just wouldn't talk to the media like I do all the time.


CAMEROTA: All right. Let's bring in two former NFL players to talk about all of this. We have Ephraim Salaam, a 13-season veteran of the NFL, and a retired Green Beret, Nate Boyer, who played for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

Gentlemen, great to have you here.

Ephraim, what do you think when you hear -- well, let's just start with Villanueva there who said that he feels embarrassed that he sort of unintentionally took this stand. It seemed to be against his teammates.

EPHRAIM SALAAM, RETIRED NFL PLAYER: Well, the one thing you have to know, the first thing you have to know about NFL locker rooms, it's a brotherhood. You know, no matter what social, economic background you come from or religion or ethnicity, you guys are there together. You're there for one common goal, and that's to win.

So, no one wants to be separated from their teammate. If they came to a team-wide understanding and a vote that they would all stay in the tunnel or in the locker room during the national anthem, and all over the country, all over the world, you see a picture of one player saluting the flag and nobody else up there, it's something that can cause division within the locker room.

So, for him, he wanted to come out publicly and set the record straight about he wasn't trying to take a stand without his teammates because we all know if you start fracturing that locker room, some people agree and some people didn't agree with what he did, he wants to set the record straight that, hey, look, I was not intentionally coming out there against what we decided the night before, I am with my teammates. It just worked out to where I was front and center and everybody else was forced to stay in the tunnel.

CAMEROTA: Because we felt strongly about it in standing for the national anthem. Politics is dividing the country and the locker room, and these players. Nate, what do you think about this whole battle royale that started between the NFL and the president? NATE BOYER, FORMER NFL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PLAYER: Well, I mean, you

know, first of all, Alejandro Villanueva has nothing to be embarrassed about. He was in a tough spot, you know? The brotherhood that he has to represent from his before his time on the football field in Pittsburgh is much stronger than any locker room. Grant it, you now, Ephraim, you make great points, man, that's a brotherhood and it's a bond and it's something when you come to a place of agreement together, you know, it's a difficult situation. It's a difficult situation.

But he had I guarantee so many of his brothers in arms, you know, were very proud to see him do that, and almost look like, it felt like a protest, you know, him standing for national anthem, which is something we've done for years, almost felt like a protest in a lot of ways.

But, you know, the division right now in our country, yes, it's frustrating, and everything going on right now, you know, with the league and with the president's remarks and all that. I was just happy over the weekend, proud to see -- even though there was a lot of different demonstrations, the league felt really united. You know, Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith from the NFLPA actually being on the same page for the first time in a while. It's a good feeling.

It's something our country can take a look at and maybe learn from a little.

CAMEROTA: If this is what it takes.

Ephraim, what do you think about one man's protest, Colin Kaepernick, that has now kind of sprouted and taken root and grown exponentially. How do you explain that?

SALAAM: Well, that was -- I believe that was Colin's intentions about 15 months ago to taking a knee. He wanted to bring awareness to a situation that had not readily been talked about in this country and that's the mistreatment of the minorities by the hands of the authorities in so many communities we have in this country. And the fact that we are still having this conversation, the protests hasn't gone on deaf ears, I think that's important before because I don't want it to get sidetracked and I don't want people to be distracted about the notion that these players are unpatriotic because I don't believe that's the case whatsoever.

As far as I am concerned, this is a platform, this is one of the biggest platforms the players are having in my life, and they are choosing to make a statement. Now, it has morphed into something greater because Donald Trump has come out and, you know, really spoke negatively about these young men who do outstanding work in their communities.

[08:25:14] They spend countless hours trying to uplift people, and he came out and said disparaging words and it's very divisive.

As you know, that being on a team the last thing you want is division on any level, so when he came out and attacked those players who were protesting, it galvanized the rest of the league in terms of the players and had them come together.

CAMEROTA: So, Nate, I mean, you know, what Ephraim is eluding to is the SOBs. You know, the president called the players who decided to kneel SOBs. What do you -- how do you think we've gotten here to this point and what did you think about the president saying that?

BOYER: I mean, you know, I met with Colin over a year ago, and through our conversation is where that knee -- taking a knee started versus sitting on the bench. So, I thought at least in that moment and time, you know, Colin was willing to listen and willing to sort of give a little ground to pay respect to people that see that anthem and that flag in a different way and have a different emotional response to it.

But I think the message is getting a little bit lost here. I felt like there was so much -- so much of this weekend that was protesting the president's remarks instead of the original message, which I think --

SALAAM: Right.

BOYER: -- it needs to get back on track and people need to focus on that. I think that's the most important thing, because I don't know what it's like to be an African-American. I obviously have never been that.

But, you know, I do know what it's like to be generalized against in different ways, and the veteran community gets generalized against, you know, and people assume things about you. So, I just -- I hope the message can get back on track and more of what the players are actually doing off the field gets highlighted because that's important, you know? And I would love to see some of the players in the league find a way to sit down with President Trump or his people and for both parties to just have a conversation, an adult conversation, and for us to kind of move forward in that way. I would love that more than anything.

CAMEROTA: Maybe that is what will come out of this. Nate Boyer --

BOYER: I don't know.

CAMEROTA: -- Ephraim Salaam, thank you both for your perspective and continuing this conversation with us.

SALAAM: Thank you.

BOYER: Thank you, guys. I appreciate it.

CUOMO: All right. So, on a health care front, Republicans are vowing to press on even if they don't have the votes for this latest bill. Why don't they have the votes with Graham/Cassidy? Is there a lesson in that? We have perspective from both sides, next.