Return to Transcripts main page

NEW DAY

Puerto Rico Continues Recovery Efforts in Wake of Hurricane Maria; Interview with FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski; Roy Moore Defeats Trump-Backed Candidate in Alabama Runoff; Interview with Rep. Terri Sewell. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- sure they will be heartened that the president yesterday came out and said he will be doing more and he will be going to Puerto Rico now. But you hear this, some of them -- the three men are regretting their vote. They're beginning to have reservations about how President Trump does things. The women there are still quite supportive.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: One small slice of who voted for him, a moment in time. But just look at it. Bannon just beat his butt down in Alabama. The party running away from him on health care. Mueller is asking for taxes. He was off in Puerto Rico and dealing with the NFL in a way that gave him backlash. It's only Wednesday. So the president has put a lot on his plate, a lot of it is negative, and you are seeing it reflected even in the base.

CAMEROTA: It's a busy week and a busy day. We are following a lot of news, so let's get right to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president took a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am sure I will be criticized for coming to campaign for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rightwing firebrand Roy Moore defeating the Trump- backed candidate in Alabama.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are going to say Donald trump was unable to pull his candidate across the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an establishment versus grassroots battle.

TRUMP: We got A-pluses on taxes. We will also help Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's stop the self-congratulations which we haven't earned yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And 10,000 federal responders on the ground right now. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don't take this crisis seriously, this is

going to be your Katrina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning everyone, welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, September 27th, 8:00 in the east. And the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is getting worse. One week after hurricane Maria devastated the island the desperation there is growing because water, food, and fuel are all very scarce.

CUOMO: President Trump is defending his administration's response to Puerto Rico. The federal government ramping up relief efforts amid mounting criticism. The president says he's now going to visit next week, but help cannot come soon enough.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Bill Weir. He's live in San Juan. And you are hearing a lot out of Washington, D.C., even from the government officials there. The reality on the ground, a different picture.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So much different. Even if there are 10,000 federal first responders down here, not disputing that number, but there are 3.5 million people in dire need of the most basic essentials to survive. We went out yesterday, a two-hour trip up into the mountains, and when we first got here you look at these vistas and our jaws would drop and we would say, oh, my gosh, look at that, look at that. It is everywhere to the point where you suddenly become numb to it. It's the new normal here.

But here's a little sample of how people are managing to get by literally hour-by-hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEIR: Beside a highway this is the most dependable utility in Puerto Rico these days. A pipe tapped into a mountain spring is now the watering hole for a community of over 30,000.

It's a natural spring?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a natural spring. It's always here.

WEIR: And are you boiling it or you drinking straight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can drink it straight. This is cleaner than the water you get from the department of water resources.

WEIR: OK, that's good. How is everything else in life? You got enough food?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awful. Awful. There's people that have a shortage of food. The National Guard is not working up to the way it should be. They're all just standing there doing nothing. No electricity. No water for the city. It's going to take maybe six or seven months for anything to happen here.

WEIR: While safer coastal storm surges, Maria brought hellish mudslides to mountain towns like this, cutting off families for days and forcing desperate decision making. Do you burn precious fuel searching for supplies, or stay put and pray for help?

Lydia has two cars with no gas, two grandkids to keep alive on a ration of crackers. With no way to reach that highway pipe, they drink rain water. No water, no food, she tells me. It's nobody's fault. It's the weather. You have to go on.

All the anxiety, I can tell, and my heart breaks for you. "What worries me the most, my family doesn't know how we are doing," she says. "We have don't have cell phone connection."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One a scale of one to 10, 10 being horrible desperate, we are at eight.

WEIR: Eight and getting better, the young mayor tells me. If the gasoline arrives it will fix our problems because people are starting to get desperate.

Gas is more precious than water up here. National Guard vehicles can't move. Worthless ambulances sit idle. The hospital has one day's worth of generator fuel left and one volunteer doctor because the rest of the staff has no way to get to work.

[08:05:11] Are people starting to turn on each other? "Yes," he says. There have been situations where people are stressed out, crying. Folks with dialysis, patients with cancer, bed ridden patients who need ventilators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything you can help from the outside, because I need gasoline and diesel.

WEIR: I will tell. I will tell the world.

The fuel shortage is even more evident in San Juan where lines are miles long. They opened this particular service station at 6:00 in the morning and they run out of gas by 3:00 p.m., so some of the people at end of this line may not get the fuel they need. The folks here are telling me that a local ring of gangsters, drug dealers, actually commandeered a gas station, took over two lines, just so their guys could get the fuel.

How would you describe the level of desperation?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To the highest level. And not only here in the metropolitan area but in the center of the island, it's very, very bad. And they are suffering. Everybody is suffering. And let's see how we can work it out and begin again.

WEIR: You are putting a brave smile on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always do that. Of course.

WEIR: Some day after the most primal needs are met, parents will have to figure out how to send their kids back to school, and at Wesleyan Academy, this is what awaits. There is so much to rebuild and so many now considering leaving this island for good.

What message would you have for folks back at the mainland?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we just have to keep calm. That's all I can say is just keep calm because, like I said, I told my family, if we don't see anything getting better, I am going to have to leave the island. I have been here already 20 years and I'm going to have to leave the island because I don't have any other choice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEIR: Leaving the island in the near future is a huge challenge, as you can imagine. We are already starting to see some Katrina-esque cries for help painted on roofs and intersections shot by helicopters from above. My Facebook feed is literally filled with hundreds of people in the States hoping to contact their relatives. I wish I could answer all of you, but communication is still down. So a satellite phone in the mayor's hands will consume half of his day as people try to connect and give proof of life back to the states.

They are worried about pending disasters. The hospitals, only a handful are open. When mosquitos start breeding after this storm they are worried about Zika and Dengue fever. So literally a mountain of anxiety on the heads of these people. But we're also seeing in addition to those cries for help spray-painted slogans, "Puerto Rico se levantara," "Puerto Rico will rise." These are strong people, hearty, austere people who are used to a difficult life down here.

And today, Chris, Alisyn, I'm going to try to get to Vieques, one of the most popular tourists destinations. That's where the luminescent, the water that glows when you go out there, some of the ritziest resorts are there, also about 9,000 residents who are completely cut off, and we'll be bringing that to you tonight.

CAMEROTA: OK, we'll watch for that. Bill, thank you very much for all those striking images for us.

So now we're going to try to get some real information for all the people who are suffering and their families. Joining us now is the deputy administrator of FEMA Daniel Kaniewski. Daniel, thank you very much for being here. Let's just go through the numbers. If you could give us all of the updates that we need this morning. We understand that you have 10,000 federal responders on the ground, sounds like a big number, but of course that's a fraction of the 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico. Do you need more federal responders there?

DANIEL KANIEWSKI, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: First, that's correct. We do have 10,000 federal responders on the ground right now supporting this response operation. We have thousands more, whether they be those sitting behind me or those throughout all of the federal agencies, including the Department of Defense back here in Washington, supporting those on the ground.

Right now our priorities are getting additional personnel there, providing commodities, in addition to the millions of meals and millions of liters of waters we've already provided, we have more on the way. We are also well aware of the fuel needs on the ground. We believe that there is sufficient fuel on the island right now.

The challenge we are having, quite frankly, is distributing it, getting it out in all those in need. Let me speak on that for just one moment. First on the gasoline. Over the last 24 hours we are delivering fuel to over 200 gas stations, so gasoline to those 200 gas stations.

[08:10:00] Two, diesel fuel to those critical facilities in need of that to run their generators. That would include principally hospitals. So those issues are certainly on our radar and have been our top priority over the last 24 hours.

CAMEROTA: And Daniel, just a couple things on that. What about what Bill Weir just reported that part of the problem is that, you know, hoodlums, gangsters are claiming the fuel for themselves? Is there security placed at all of the gas stations.

KANIEWSKI: Sure. There certainly is security deployed there. We are working very closely with our federal law enforcement partners to put hundreds of federal law enforcement officers, frankly, are already there. They are on the ground, but now we want to build that force.

And we can build that force a number of ways. One is getting a number more federal law enforcement officers there, which we are doing, and, two, making sure we're leveraging the local assets that are available.

Here's the biggest challenge on that, leveraging the local assets. Because this hurricane was so devastating it has had a detrimental impact on the local governments there. They are quite simply not able to provide the services they normally would. It's requiring a substantial federal support mission. And so right now our sustainment mission is a top priority, making sure that we can continue this operation and continue to support those local responders who, frankly, are not able to do this job right now, they have been directly impacted. And that's going to require a sustained operation to continue to provide these critical commodities and other essentially services.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the food and the water and the medicine that we keep hearing that people need there. Some people are really within hours or days of running out of all of those things. So are the airports open for those kinds of supplies. Are the ports able to deliver those kinds of supplies today?

KANIEWSKI: Sure. The biggest challenge of course with this disaster operation, which makes it very different than responding to a U.S. state here in the continental U.S. is the 1,500 miles of ocean that separate me from that islands where I sit here right now from those islands. The only options we have, as you said, are flights and ships. The flights have been hampered by a damaged air traffic control system on Puerto Rico. So what we are doing right now is, one, prioritizing all of those mission essential flights, those humanitarian missions into those airports. Two, we are opening additional airports for those humanitarian relief operations. Roosevelt Road is now open and operating, and that's provides an additional airport to get those critical supplies in.

And two, the really substantial number of supplies, we are talking hundreds of thousands of meals that might be able to get on a flight, but millions of meals that can get it via ship, but we need those ports open. So we are working to get the ports not only open but working at a higher capacity to offload all of those relief supplies that are either there or on their way there and making sure we can distribute them to the local populations.

CAMEROTA: And Daniel, can you give us a sense of how much of this stuff was prepositioned? As we knew that Puerto Rico was going to be hit by the monster storm, Maria, was it possible to begin getting things into place?

KANIEWSKI: It was. Just like we would normally do here in the continental of the U.S., we positioned those just outside of the impact area. So they were on ships and we had loaded on planes ready to go. As soon as those tropical storm-force winds died down, they were there. In fact we had responders and I know the American Red Cross, brave volunteers who sheltered in place because they refused to leave the island in the wake of that hurricane because they wanted to be there the moment it was safe to respond.

CAMEROTA: One last question, the flights out. So many people are desperate to get out and they have been waiting there for days. Do you know how many flights are able to leave that airport a day?

KANIEWSKI: I can't give you a specific number. I can tell you that we have heavy lift aircrafts on their way in today with supplies and personnel. I can also tell you that we are thinking innovatively on how to get people that want to get off the island out, and that could be the return flights for those missions that go in to drop off supplies and personnel. Obviously we're not returning those to the U.S. empty. We want to load those up with people who wish to get out.

Two, there's other options. Cruise ships, for example, can help us evacuate those who wish to leave the island.

CAMEROTA: It's going to be all hands on deck, so to speak. Daniel Kaniewski, thank you very much for all of the information this morning.

KANIEWSKI: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris?

CUOMO: Another big story is the political tumult in Alabama. Voters shaking up the Republican establishment, delivering a sweeping victory to the state's former chief justice Roy Moore in last night's GOP Senate primary runoff. President Trump deleting his recent tweets supporting Senator Luther Strange who he was backing against Moore. CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt is live in Montgomery, Alabama, with more. What's it like down there?

[08:15:02] ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. That's right. Well, President Trump took a real gamble on this race and lost. He pitted himself against many in his own base, against former senior adviser Steve Bannon, many of whom went for the anti-establishment, outsider candidate in Judge Roy Moore.

Now in his victory speech last night Judge Moore said that he didn't resent the president, he's still a big supporter of the president and his agenda. I managed to grab the judge shortly after that speech. He told me, I think the president is doing a good job and as long as it's constitutional I'll be on his team.

Here's a little bit more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: There's so much overlap between his supporters and your supporters. Why do you think they ignored his endorsement of Luther Strange and went for you?

JUDGE ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think because they know me. They know what I stand for. I have been in politics for many years as a judge and I've got a strong support base. And I think they weren't running against President Trump or Vice President Pence, they were running -- outrunning against my opponent or was running against my opponent. They knew the contest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: I just want to remind viewers of the judge's background. He's a deeply controversial figure here in Alabama and in Washington. He's a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court but was twice removed from the court, the first time for refusing to remove a memorial to the Ten Commandment that he had installed at the court. The second time for refusing to go along with the Federal Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage.

This is a man who has suggested that 9/11 and school shootings have happened because Americans have turned away from God. And as a result there are a lot of Republicans and the establishment on Capitol Hill who don't want to see to him up there, don't want to see the Republican Party tainted, if you will, associated with what they view as extreme views, to the point where Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spent millions of dollars on this race supporting Moore's opponent, Luther Strange.

Now McConnell and many others may have to contend with Moore. Moore stands a very good chance of winning this race in a very red state. He is running against a Democrat named Doug Jones. That election slated for December 12th -- Alisyn, Chris. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Alex, thank you very much for all

of that news out of Alabama.

Look, Roy Moore has said lots of inflammatory things to you on our air here, as well as he's written them. I'm going to get to one of his op-ed in a second.

Let's bring in CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza to talk about this development overnight in Alabama.

Chris, let's just talk -- in case people don't know who Roy Moore is --

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Let's just -- I hope we have it, and maybe we can read the op-ed that he wrote. This was when Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, was being sworn in, Roy Moore wrote I believe an op-ed in which he said this. "In 1943 we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on Mein Kampf, or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the 'Communist Manifesto.' Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today."

He did not want Congressman Ellison to use the Quran.

CILLIZZA: That's right. And do --

CAMEROTA: Roy Moore feels strongly about the Bible and the Ten Commandments being a part of public life.

CILLIZZA: Yes, a few things. One, he has said that there are Sharia law governing communities in Illinois. He didn't know what DACA was when asked about it on the campaign trail. And then go back a little bit. The reason that Roy Moore is the figure he is in Alabama, the reason that he had this strong conservative base of support that propelled him to victory despite McConnell and Trump being for Luther Strange are two fights.

He has been a state Supreme Court justice twice and he has been removed twice from that job. The first time was when he refused to move the Ten Commandments. He fought against that displaying in courts. The second was when he refused to sanction gay marriage after the Supreme Court had legalized it across the country.

So this is someone who -- he gets compared to Donald Trump a lot. This is someone who was fighting these fights when Donald Trump candidly was still a Democrat. He has said a lot of controversial things. He made comments about homosexually to Chris.

And let me just say, I was watching the show when Ron Johnson from Wisconsin was on. Here's the issue with Ron Johnson saying I don't agree with anyone 100 percent of the time. That's fine. No one agrees with anyone 100 percent of the time. But Roy Moore has openly and continues to speculate even after Donald Trump, one of the original birthers, said OK, President Obama was born in America. Roy Moore continues to push that. That is not a "I agree with him some of the time, I agree -- I don't sometimes."

That is one side is fact based, President Obama was born in the United States, and the other, which where Moore is on, is not fact based. So a little bit of a squishy answer there I think from Ron Johnson.

CUOMO: Yes, Ron --

[08:20:02] CILLIZZA: And there's going to be lots of him because Roy Moore is going -- had said and is going to say --

CUOMO: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- a lot of things that are going to make his colleagues uncomfortable.

CUOMO: Look, I mean, you know, there is truth. What you ignore, you empower. Ron Johnson is hedging right now, he's saying they're all a bunch of cats. We'll see how he feels if he gets into it where he needs Roy Moore and Roy Moore stands up and decides that he's more important than the Constitution again, which he did as the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

CUOMO: And he still got voted back so that shows you also what that political culture is willing to tolerate in Alabama. Will he still be the same? We'll see.

Let me ask you about something else. Last time I checked, it's Wednesday, OK? Bannon gave Trump a beat-down in Alabama. He can say whatever he wants about how he's not out to hurt the president, he seems to be doing nothing but that. Health care got away from the president again, the moderates in that party not pulling together, that's part of the reason he tried to help Luther Strange, trying to win back their favor.

The NFL player situation seems to have only created a broader divide in this country. He wasn't talking about Puerto Rico. He got called out about it. Now he's trying to double down, and he has Mueller looking in the taxes of Flynn and Manafort.

It is Wednesday, and all that has happened this week. That is some plate of negative vittles in front of his face.

CILLIZZA: Hundred percent. I think at the moment it's a real battle for last between Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, Chris, about who's having a worse week. You know, McConnell watched his health care go down. McConnell watches his guy go down. And now McConnell has to deal with Roy Moore as a problem.

Yes, I mean, one of the things that I think is fascinating about Trump, and I think we have to keep on this, and he said this yesterday, he does all the time. He said yesterday, talking about Puerto Rico, everyone is saying we're doing a very good job. I am paraphrasing but that's -- he definitely said that roughly. He creates his own reality. He makes it. He says it and he wills it

into being with a number of his supporters. So I think if you asked some Trump supporters, they'd say, it's fine, Roy Moore, he's going to be a Trump supporters. The media is attacking him about Puerto Rico and that's ridiculous, and he was right about the NFL.

I think it is important -- again this gets back to where we started with. It is important to separate fact from opinion. The facts of this week are bad for Donald Trump. Donald Trump's opinion of this week is sort of irrelevant.

CUOMO: Well, Alisyn's voter group, it was the first time we've heard people who voted for Trump.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

CUOMO: Gives some voice to what you are saying right now.

CAMEROTA: Yes. They were not happy. On Monday they were not happy with the response to Hurricane Maria. Then he changed. You know, he shifted. We saw it on our air yesterday, happened in real time. He heard them, you know, on some level.

CILLIZZA: Do not underestimate, Alisyn, his ability to -- even though the facts suggest he spent five days talking about the NFL rather than the hurricane, do not underestimate his ability to reshape history in the eyes of his supporters and blame this all on a media conspiracy. He's done it before. He's going to try and do it now or do it again.

CAMEROTA: He's also deleting his tweets about Luther Strange but --

CUOMO: Yes. He tried that. Doesn't work.

CAMEROTA: Doesn't work?

CUOMO: Turns out that other people have them so they still exist.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Got it. Chris Cillizza, thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So can the president work with Democrats to make deals on taxes and infrastructure? We're going to speak to a member of the House who met with the president yesterday. What did they talk about? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:26:04] CUOMO: The Republican establishment taking a hit. Voters in Alabama delivering a sweeping victory to the state's controversial former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a GOP Senate primary runoff.

The Democrats now have a chance to pick up a Senate seat there.

Joining us is Democratic Congressman Terri Sewell of Alabama.

So this was a big deal, what happened down there, but you knew it was coming. Roy Moore had a big lead. Yes, Trump being in there for Luther Strange, all that money from McConnell. That helped to close the gap. But the people down there love them some Roy Moore. We've seen it time and time again.

What do you think your chance is as a party to beat him?

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA: You know, I really think that last night was a wake-up call for Alabamians. What a big contrast between the Democratic candidate Doug Jones, who actually is a former federal prosecutor, a U.S. attorney under the Clinton administration that actually prosecuted the last of the klansman who committed the atrocity of killing the four little girls in the bombing of Street Baptist Church.

Contrast that with Roy Moore, a former chief judge who twice was removed from being chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court because of his refusal to follow federal law. And state law for that matter. And so I think that it's really important for Alabamians to really take a hard look at who we're sending to Congress.

I think that his election is definitely an indication of the fact that folks are doubling down and feeling emboldened by this president' sort of blatant disregard for all things racist, to be honest with you. And so I think that we really in Alabama have a real opportunity to see a contrast between the Democratic candidate Doug Jones and Roy Moore. My hope is that we will see the virtue in having someone like Doug Jones.

CUOMO: Terri, what are you saying? Are you saying that the president stokes racist tendencies or are you saying that he is engendering them, that he himself believes in these racist narratives?

SEWELL: I think the former. I think he's definitely stoking racist proclivities all across this nation. The fact that Alabama sort of double down on populism is a direct I think statement as to the nature of -- you know, the environment that he is creating as a president.

CUOMO: Let me hit you with some bigger issues here. First, Puerto Rico, on your radar, even as a representative from Alabama because Congress is going to have to act, and frankly there should have been some paper on the president's desk already about this, there hasn't been.

The Jones Act came after World War II, it was about Russian, you know, German U-boats and what it did was it put into place where only American made and crew and staffed ships could bring goods to Puerto Rico. As a result that's raised the prices of goods in Puerto Rico. We've seen it waived before. It needs to be waived right now. That's an objective fact. They need the cheapest goods available and the most supply they can get. Will that happen? Why hasn't it happen?

SEWELL: Look, I think that so much needs to happen in order to really take care of those American citizens in Puerto Rico. It's a shame that the president hasn't gone down there at all, instead he's been focusing on, you know, the NFL, the NBA, and everything but Puerto Rico.

CUOMO: But you don't need him to go down there to waive the Jones Act. You don't need him to go down there --

SEWELL: You're absolutely right.

CUOMO: -- to put together some spending for them.

SEWELL: You're absolutely right.

CUOMO: So what about that?

SEWELL: I think that it's important that we do all we can to make sure that we get the services and the goods that the folks of Puerto Rico need. And let's not forget what's going on in the Virgin Islands as well.

CUOMO: True.

SEWELL: I think that it's really important for us to put aside sort of partisan bickering and I think what was intended to be a sort of pro-American, by American provision such as the one that the Jones Act --

CUOMO: So you're in favor of waiving it for now?

SEWELL: I am. At least temporarily in order to get --

CUOMO: Right.

SEWELL: If that's what it takes to actually get the goods and the products and the help that the folks in Puerto Rico need.

CUOMO: It would help by definition because it would expand who can supply the stuff there.

SEWELL: Absolutely.

CUOMO: And will help on pricing. Let me ask you about something else. You were with the president in terms of Ways and Means falls into the tax --