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Interview With Former Michigan Congressman Peter Hoekstra; Trump Gives Hardline Speech after Tame Talk in Mexico; Hurricane Targets Florida. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 1, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a new forecast of where the disaster may strike in the hours ahead.

Dangerous discovery. Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus have been identified in the U.S. for the first time, as federal funding to respond to this growing health crisis is about to run out.

Muddled message. Donald Trump creates more confusion after toning down his immigration rhetoric in Mexico and then ramping it up again in Arizona with a red meat speech. Why is Trump switching gears again by suggesting his policy is softening?

And Clinton's cash. Her campaign just announced a record mega-million dollar fund raising haul in her battle against Trump, but, tonight, another key number, her advantage in the polls is shrinking.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking this hour, Hurricane Hermine is bearing down on Florida. It's expected to hit the Panhandle within hours.

Officials say they are most concerned about a potentially deadly storm surge that could pound the coast with walls of water up to eight feet high. Georgia and North Carolina are also under states of emergency. A new forecast extends storm warnings further north, all the way to New Jersey, with tens of millions of people at risk.

Also in Florida, mosquitos trapped in Miami Beach have tested positive for the Zika virus. It's the first time in the U.S. mainland and new evidence that the illness which causes severe birth defects in humans is being transmitted locally. As the threat grows, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now warning that federal funding to fight the spread of Zika will run out soon unless Congress takes immediate action.

In the presidential race, some Latino supporters are now abandoning Donald Trump hours after he delivered a hard-line speech on immigration in Arizona. Just as Trump seemed to be clarifying his policies, he's sending mixed signals in a new interview promising -- quote -- "quite a bit of softening" on immigration.

Also breaking news from Hillary Clinton's campaign. The Democrat raised a record-breaking $143 in August for her White House bid and for her party. Donald Trump national security adviser, former Congressman Peter Hoekstra, he is standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover the top story.

Up first, let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly. He's in Ohio with more on Donald Trump's immigration policy and shifting messages.

What's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, softening is probably not the word many people would have used after they watched Donald Trump's speech in Arizona last night. But that's exactly what Trump is saying he might do going forward.

It's yet another kind of aspect of the balancing act that Donald Trump has had not just over the last 24 hours, but also the last couple of weeks, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The question trailing Donald Trump in Ohio today, which Trump would his supporters see?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't worry, we're going to build the wall. That wall will go up.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTINGLY: This after striking a hard-line stance on the defining issue of his campaign in a detailed, 70-minute address Wednesday night in Arizona.

TRUMP: On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTINGLY: And just hours before that, displaying a more conciliatory tone during a surprise visit to Mexico to meet the country's president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

TRUMP: The bond between our two countries is deep and sincere.

MATTINGLY: A different tone, a different message, and a showing that advisers say prove he can straddle the lines of diplomacy and policy.

Trump in Mexico said the issue of whether Mexico would pay for the border wall wasn't discussed.

TRUMP: We didn't discuss payment of wall. That will be for a later date.

MATTINGLY: But after Trump's departure, Pena Nieto said he made his position clear to the GOP nominee.

ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, MEXICAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I can say with all clarify and in public and the candidate Trump knows that I was emphatic to affirm that Mexico wouldn't pay by any means for the wall.

MATTINGLY: But Trump in Arizona made equally clear there was no shift in his stance.

TRUMP: And Mexico will pay for the wall.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MATTINGLY: Hillary Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, seized on CNN this morning.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That was a choke. And I think it shows that diplomacy is not for amateurs. Donald Trump is an amateur.

MATTINGLY: Trump reiterated in his Arizona speech that there will be no pathway to citizenship or legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.

[18:05:05]

TRUMP: For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only, to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.

MATTINGLY: Even as he backed off his early campaign claims of immediate deportation for all 11 million-plus estimated to be in the country, something he described as a -- quote -- "softening" in a radio interview after the speech.

TRUMP: Oh, they're softening. Look, we'd do it in a very humane way. And we're going to see with the people that are in the country -- obviously, I want to get the gang members out, the drug peddlers out. I want to get the drug dealers out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, nowhere is the need for that balance on immigration more clear than here in Ohio in Wilmington, where Donald Trump spoke in the afternoon.

This is Trump country. I talked to a lot of his supporters in the audience today for his rally. They loved the speech last night. But in Cincinnati, where Donald Trump was the morning, you had a lower-key Trump.

There's a good reason for that. In the suburbs of Cincinnati, in the suburbs of Columbus, these are places where Republicans are very establishment-based, Republicans that are so far, at least according to polling, very wary of Trump's candidacy. If Trump has any chance to win in Ohio, he needs those Republicans to

come home. And that's why you're seeing a lot of this back and forth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Phil Mattingly in Ohio for us, thank you.

Also tonight, some Latino supporters are having a very negative reaction to Trump's immigration speech in Arizona.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He has the latest on this front.

What are you hearing, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Well, Donald Trump, Wolf, I think, appears to be making the calculation that energizing his base is more important at this point than his outreach to minorities, which we have seen over the last couple of weeks, specifically Latino voters who care about this immigration issue.

Case in point, we're starting to see members from Trump's own Hispanic Advisory Council resigning from that board today in response to Trump's immigration speech in Phoenix last night. Two of those now former members of that council spoke with CNN earlier today and said they were disappointed in Trump's message.

While the GOP nominee appears to have backed away from his original proposal for a deportation force that would round up the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, that's not what his Latino supporters heard as Trump vehemently ruled out any path to legalization. Here is what one of those board members had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACOB MONTY, FORMER TRUMP HISPANIC ADVISORY COUNCIL MEMBER: I have resigned. I know other people have resigned. It's not a good feeling, because the alternative is not much better. But I'm unwilling to be part of his propaganda machine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, I talked to one Latino GOP source who wondered whether members of Trump's Hispanic Advisory Council were simply being naive about the GOP nominee's willingness to significantly moderate his position on this issue.

There's evidence, Wolf, though, we should point out, that Trump's immigration stance is turning off other voters besides Hispanics. A FOX News poll out just yesterday found that three-quarters of those surveyed said that there should be a path to legalization for these undocumented immigrants; 66 percent of Republicans feel the same way, Wolf.

The 23 percent that don't want a path to legalization, they might make a lot of noise at a Trump rally, but they do not represent where the country is right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting, thank you.

Joining us now, Donald Trump's national security adviser Pete Hoekstra. He is a former member of Congress. He served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

PETER HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Good to be here. Thanks.

BLITZER: Is the speech you heard last night from Donald Trump what you wanted to hear on this very sensitive, complex issue of illegal immigration?

HOEKSTRA: What I saw from Donald Trump yesterday, and you have to take a look at the whole day. Number one, he went to Mexico and treated the Mexican president with respect and dignity and said that this is an issue that's important to both of our countries.

We need to secure the borders. You have the cartels. You have drugs, you have national security issues. We want to partner with you to address and solve this issue. So, the tone in Mexico was absolutely perfect.

Last night, he came home...

BLITZER: It wasn't completely perfect, because, after the meeting -- Donald Trump had said in response to reporters' questions that they never discussed the issue of Mexico's paying for the border wall, and the president of Mexico strongly disputed that, as you just heard. And he said he made it clear to Trump that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall.

HOEKSTRA: That's something Mr. Trump and the president of Mexico are going to work out. I wasn't there.

But I thought reaching out to the Mexican president and saying this is an important issue that needs to be resolved and addressed by both countries, and we want to partner with you, is a very important first step.

BLITZER: You heard Senator Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, say Trump did not have the guts to deal with this issue of Mexico's paying for the wall when he confronted the Mexican president.

HOEKSTRA: He called him an amateur. Totally inappropriate.

BLITZER: He said he choked.

HOEKSTRA: He choked.

I remember one of the first visits that the Democrat nominee made. Went to Russia and pushed a silly reset button. All right? That's amateur hour. This is a professional meeting. This is a candidate who...

[18:10:05]

BLITZER: Why didn't he talk to him about paying for the wall?

HOEKSTRA: I don't know if they talked to him about it or not.

BLITZER: But, apparently, the Mexican president said at the beginning, if you believe the Mexican president, that he said Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, and then Trump dropped it, didn't get into that issue.

HOEKSTRA: Look, there are a whole series of issues that Mexico and the United States are going to have to come together on and address.

The wall is one. Criminal enforcement and those types of things in partnership is another. So, there are a whole series of issues. This is the beginning of that process. Trump then went to Arizona and gave the American people the message that they need to hear. We're going to secure our borders. We're going to be a country of laws.

We're actually going to enforce our immigration laws. We're going to enforce it for the folks that have come here who have broken the law, who have come here illegally. We're going to enforce it by eliminating sanctuary cities.

The other message that I think is not talked about a lot is that he said we were going to -- we're going to do severe vetting. But one of the things we're going to look for is, we're going to look for and screen people coming in who love America, who we believe can be assimilated. And there's probably no better group to indicate who can do that is Hispanics.

They have come here. They have become very productive in our society. They have embraced our values. That's a very positive message to the Hispanic community. So, I think you take a look at the whole day in total, it was a good day.

BLITZER: At least three of Donald Trump's Hispanic advisers dumped him today because they hated what they heard last night.

HOEKSTRA: Yes, I'm not sure what they were looking for, because I thought it was a positive message to the Hispanic community. Maybe they were expected something else. Maybe they were expecting blanket amnesty, which is something that Hillary Clinton is talking about and those types of things.

But that's not what we heard and that's not what we expected to hear from Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: One of the things they didn't like is when Donald Trump said of the 11 million undocumented immigrants here in the United States, the only way they can ever get legal status, whether just residence status, maybe even citizenship, they all have to leave the country first, and then apply to get back in. They apparently didn't like that.

HOEKSTRA: They didn't like that. That's the current law. That's what should be happening today.

What Donald Trump says is, we are going to do all of these other steps and then we're going to get to that point. And I'm assuming as that process -- as we work through and implement all of those steps, Congress and the president, Mr. Trump, are going to work together. And if they change the immigration law, that potentially may change what will happen to these folks at the end.

But we have got to get all of these other steps in place and give the American people confidence and then deal with that group of people at the end.

BLITZER: You served in Congress for a long time. You were chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Is it realistic to assume that Congress would appropriate funds to build this new wall?

HOEKSTRA: Oh, I think so.

BLITZER: You think Democrats are going to support that?

HOEKSTRA: I don't know whether Democrats are going to support it.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, in the Senate, you are going to have to have at least 60 votes in order to get legislation like that passed.

HOEKSTRA: But I also know that if it's a priority for the president and as you go through the appropriations process, there's a way that a president gets what he wants. And it's a process of compromise.

And we now will have a president again who I believe will be able to work with Congress and actually come together. And we used to call it legislation. Maybe in the era of President Trump, it will be called deals.

BLITZER: Why do you believe that, that if Donald Trump is elected, he's going be able to work with the Democrats?

HOEKSTRA: This is a guy that came out of the business community. He's been very successful. And in the business community, it's always about getting to yes where both sides win.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, he is going to show flexibility? He's going to bend? Is that what you're saying? He is going to move away from some of the positions that the Democrats hate?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think the interesting thing in politics is sometimes you both can get what you want as you put together the package and it doesn't mean that you're selling out your values or you're softening or whatever. You just put some things together, and you have got an agreement and a

deal to move forward, where it is a win-win. And there hasn't been enough of that in Washington.

BLITZER: Congressman, we're going to take a quick break, and I want to continue the conversation with you.

We're also monitoring the breaking news, Hurricane Hermine about to hit Florida. Stand by. We will get you more on what's going on down in Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:26]

BLITZER: We're back with Donald Trump national security adviser former Congressman Pete Hoekstra.

Stand by, Congressman. We have more questions for you.

As we look at newly released documents that reveal fascinating new details about the Republican presidential nominee, I want to bring in our own Brian Todd. He's been looking through thousands of pages of new information we have just received.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these documents and a new book on Donald Trump are giving us insights tonight into how Trump became the all-out fighter that he is today in politics and in business.

We have learned how he was influenced by a legendary New York lawyer who instilled in him the idea that when someone hits you, hit back twice as hard. That's a philosophy that Trump lives by still every day on the campaign trial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Zero tolerance for criminal aliens, zero.

TODD (voice-over): Donald Trump fires new broadsides at undocumented immigrants, but just hours earlier, in his meeting with the Mexican president, a different side.

TRUMP: It's great honor to be invited by you, Mr. President.

TODD: Tonight, new insights into how Donald Trump conducts himself, waging constant public battles.

TRUMP: I would like to punch him in the face.

TODD: The revelation come this in thousands of pages of documents just released by "The Washington Post," a foundation for the new book "Trump Revealed" by "Post" journalists Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher. They give a fascinating account of one of Donald Trump's first lessons in bare-knuckle brawling in business and politics. Trump was in his mid-20s. The U.S. government was suing Trump, his father, Fred, and their company for allegedly discriminating against minorities who wanted to rent apartments from them.

[18:20:00]

Around that time, Donald Trump had fateful first meeting with a New York legend.

MARC FISHER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In a very down moment, Donald Trump went to a nightclub in Manhattan called Le Club, where he happened to meet Roy Cohn, who was famous for having defending Senator Joseph McCarthy back in the 1950s in the communist-hunting days.

TODD: From McCarthy to the mobsters he represented, Roy Cohn was a battler. He was tough, often downright nasty in court or on CNN's "CROSSFIRE."

ROY COHN, ATTORNEY: I said that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to a book I have read.

COHN: Well, read another book.

TODD: Cohn's message to Trump in that nightclub conversation? Tell the government to -- quote -- "go to hell."

FISHER: In that very first meeting, Cohn laid out for him his philosophy of how to fight back in a lawsuit, how to fight back against a federal investigation. And that was to hit back 10 times harder.

TODD: A former lawyer for the government describes the atmosphere in court.

ELYSE GOLDWEBER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT LAWYER: We go to court. It's the first day and it's very, very tense. We have the Trumps, both the father and the son, Roy Cohn, us, the Justice Department, my boss.

TODD: Cohn and the Trumps fought that lawsuit for two years. They settled, but it was bruising. Case documents show one attempt by the government to get the Trumps to prove they weren't discriminating -- quote -- "died a slow death."

FISHER: Very much meshed with his idea of how he was going to differentiate himself from his father. His father, Donald thought, should have moved from Brooklyn and Queens onto the much bigger stage of Manhattan, trying to make projects work on the most difficult, risky environment of all. And he felt that his father was a little too risk-averse.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: But Marc Fisher says in Roy Cohn Trump found someone who loved risks, just like he did. And Cohn opened Trump's eyes to another idea which Trump of course employs so well to this day, how to use the media to your advantage with the philosophy that any publicity is good publicity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thanks very much.

We're back with former Congressman Pete Hoekstra.

You only recently got to know Donald Trump. A very different style than you have.

HOEKSTRA: Very different style. He's a New Yorker. He's a fighter. I'm a Midwesterner. It's more kind of go along and get along.

But I spent some time with him. I really like him. He's got a sense of humor and he operates the way that I would expect a CEO to operate.

BLITZER: He's going to be in Michigan over the next few days. He's going to be doing an interview with an African-American pastor in Michigan, Pastor Wayne T. Jackson, speaking about his outreach to the African-American community.

The criticism is, why doesn't he go to an African-American church and actually speak to a congregation, as opposed to just doing a television interview?

HOEKSTRA: I think he is going to go to an African-American church in Detroit.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: This weekend?

HOEKSTRA: I believe he is. I'm not sure.

BLITZER: He's going to go to do this interview, but he's not going to speak there. He's going to sit down with this pastor for a TV interview.

HOEKSTRA: Yes. Right. But I think he's doing more stuff in southeast Michigan. And I'm glad he's coming.

As Republicans, we're excited that in Michigan, Donald Trump is going into Detroit. And he's taking our message and he's being a fighter and asking the African-American community. What have you got to lose? Take a look at where Detroit is. Yes, Detroit is coming back, but this is a city that used to have 1.75 million residents and they're down to about 800,000.

And it needs to be rebuilt. And he's going in and saying, we're going to work with you. We're going to help you bring this city back. We're going to give you quality education. We are going to give you a way out for your kids and we're going to work together to get that done. BLITZER: The criticism is that, what, it's only 68 days to go until

the election. And he really hasn't gone to an African-American audience, if you will, to make his case.

HOEKSTRA: Hey, in Michigan, we have nine months of winter. The election starts on Labor Day.

And that's when people really start focusing on the election. He's coming exactly the right time, right when our election season kicks off on Labor Day weekend.

BLITZER: You think it's realistic that he could carry your state of Michigan? Our recent poll, or at least a Suffolk University poll, had his down by seven points. Others polls have him down between five and 10. The RealClearPolitics average have him down 8.2 percent. It looks pretty rough for him in Michigan.

HOEKSTRA: Michigan is a tough state for a Republican on a statewide basis.

But we have had great success with our Republican governor in the state bringing our state back. And Donald Trump is going to exactly the people he needs to talk to, the African-American community, the union households who have been hurt by stagnant incomes, who have been hurt by the trade agreements, who have been hurt by the policies that we put in place for the inner city.

He is exactly where he needs to be to put Michigan in play.

BLITZER: Pete Hoekstra, thanks very much for coming in.

HOEKSTRA: Great. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going live to Florida, which is bracing right now for the first direct hit by a hurricane in more than a decade. And we will get an up-to-the minute forecast on the path of this potentially deadly storm with millions of Americans at risk right now, not only along the Gulf coast, but also up the East Coast.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:35]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the threat from Hurricane Hermine expanding right now, with new storm warnings and watches extending as far north as New Jersey.

Right now, the Florida Panhandle is bracing for impact and the possibility of huge and deadly storm surges.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is in the danger zone for us right now.

Jennifer, what are the conditions you're seeing already? [18:30:02] JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, we have already

experienced several of those bands come through. And one of them right now. You can actually see the very heavy rain. We're experiencing some very strong winds. Of course, it's only going to deteriorate hour by hour as we go through the rest of the evening and to the overnight.

Of course, this storm is still about 80 miles offshore, and so we still have a long way to go. But the problem is, especially in this area where we are, Apalachicola in the big bend of Florida, it's extremely vulnerable of a storm surge. A lot bays, lot of lagoons, intercostal waterways.

And just to give you an idea, you can see the water just rushing by me. It's actually supposed to be going in the other direction. But all of the wind and all of the energy from this storm is just pushing that water in. Luckily, we had high tide about two hours ago, so water should be trying to work against that. The worst-case scenario would be this making landfall around high tide. It looks like we're going to make landfall around low tide, which would be the best case scenario.

Of course, the tide changes depending on where you are across the state. Some areas won't be so lucky, of course.

Cedar Key is another area that's extremely vulnerable to storm surge. And we have seen the waves crashing over and over onto those roadways. There are many areas along the coast that are already flooding, and we are still hours away from landfall. So that's why those evacuations along these coastal areas were so important.

And we do know that a lot of people did get out. Hopefully all of them did. You'll never know for sure. Storm surge being the biggest concern. Five to seven feet around this area of Florida. Other areas could experience isolated higher levels of storm surge.

And also the flooding is going to be a huge concern and the wind, too, Wolf. Some people don't realize this part of the state, a lot of trees, especially once you get up towards Tallahassee. We could see some major wind damage there. And then when you get those trees knocked down, of course, we could see widespread power outages. And then as the storm continues off to the north and east, that flooding threat will remain. The wind threat will remain. But here along the coast in the Panhandle, in the big bend of Florida the main threat here, I do believe, is going to be that storm surge and that wind threat, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there. Jennifer Gray on the scene for us.

Let's get the most up to the -- up-to-the minute forecast on the storm's power and path. Our meteorologist, Tom Sater, is in the CNN severe weather center. What is the latest forecast, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, many may be thinking, Wolf, it's just a Category 1 hurricane, no big deal. But there are a number of elements that make this a little more dangerous.

One is the angle of approach, that it's coming at Apalachicola at the big bend area, as Jennifer mentioned, the storm surge. National Hurricane Center just lifted the forecast to be nine feet in some areas.

The other area of concern is there's a cold front dropping into Georgia and the Carolinas. When these two systems meet, Wolf, it's going to enhance the amount of rainfall and the intensity and the rate at which it falls. Hurricane-force winds really are only going to be within, like, ten miles. That's not the big concern.

But tropical storm-force winds encompass 60,000 square miles. That's the size of Georgia. With the heavy rainfall weakening roots systems, it's going to be numerous downed trees. There's going to be power outages. It's why crews are already starting to come in from other states.

Tornado watch in effect for isolated tornadoes. They will start to occur. Tampa has already picked up ten inches in the last 24. They've got another five to six. We could see isolated 20-inch totals with that. Here is the eye, a good -- within 70 miles of Apalachicola.

Hurricane warnings in red. In blue, they are tropical storm warnings that now include the Outer Banks. But take a look at this, Wolf. In yellow, tropical storm watch for the mid-Atlantic and Jersey coast. This is the first time we have seen a tropical storm watch since Superstorm Sandy in this area and extends all the way to Sandy Hook. That is a big concern, as well.

But the angle of approach making its way into Appalachia of the bay there, Pete's (ph) Bay, and then it makes its way up toward, again, parts of southern Georgia. South Carolina, which was devastated back in October. I'm sure that's on their minds. Then the Outer Banks.

What happens after that? As we get into areas of Saturday, there is a cone of uncertainty. Could it bank itself back in toward the northeast? Yes, it could. We're going to have to have a few more days to really kind of iron that out.

But it's the rate of rain that will be coming down, tremendous amounts. Isolated, seven, eight, ten, up to 20 inches in a few spots, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a very, very dangerous storm.

SATER: It is.

BLITZER: Tom Sater, thank you very much. We'll check back with you and Jennifer, but I want to get back to the presidential political race right now. Donald Trump's new moves on immigration. We're joined by CNN political analyst Rebecca Berg. She's a national political reporter for Real Clear Politics. Our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza. He's a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." And "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick.

Jeff, Donald Trump, he has always branded himself as a straight talker, but when he actually met with Mexico's president, he didn't discuss the issue, which he's raised repeatedly for months now, that Mexico will pay for the wall.

[18:35:14] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He didn't. And that is -- could potentially hurt him on both sides. One, his supporters would surely expect that he, you know, may have stood up to them. He said it was not the time for negotiations. I don't know if he'll have another meeting with him, so I'm not sure what the time for negotiations would be.

But I think overall, you know, the last 24 hours of the Trump campaign, he was certainly heading in the right direction in terms of, you know, normalizing his campaign in the minds of some moderate mainstream Republicans and kind of veered off again last evening.

But I think overall, he hasn't expanded his -- his appeal. And that's what he needs to do more than anything else. Those college-educated voters, suburban voters, ex-urban voters. And nothing, I think, that he did has done that. Maybe he was on the path to, but last night's speech to anyone who is watching it -- and I'm guessing the people who weren't watching it, the Clinton campaign will be more than happy to put money behind them and chop it up into TV ads. I think it was still pretty strident for some of those voters uncertain about it.

BLITZER: Yes. I spoke with Mike Pence, the Republican vice- presidential nominee, today, and he said, you know, this meeting that he had with the Mexican president, Trump, it was an introductory meeting. It wasn't a negotiation. They wanted to talk about areas where they can agree. Anything wrong with that?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's actually sort of fair. You know, it's a fact that the Mexican president said that he did bring it up, and Trump didn't say anything, that's a little surprising, knowing Trump's personality.

But look, the truth is that he's not going to negotiate the wall as a candidate. If he is president, the Mexican government will have to very -- take seriously this proposal, and there will be some serious negotiation. So I would defend him as, yes, this is not a real negotiation. He's not president.

And I frankly don't think it matters to his voters. Anything that happened at that meeting yesterday was completely erased by the speech he gave last night...

BLITZER: Isn't this...

LIZZA: ... where he made deportation of 11 million undocumented citizens the cornerstone of his campaign.

BLITZER: But David, he does say, Donald Trump, and he said it today in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham. He said, "You know, I've softened my position, because yes, the criminals -- the rapists, the drug dealers, the gang members -- who are here illegally, they're going to be kicked out on day one. There will be a deportation task force that will go out there and get them."

But he said the others who are living here peacefully, honorably, if you will, he's going to figure out what to do with them much later after he builds the wall and does all these other steps. And he says that is a softening of his position.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it depends on what the definition of softening is. If it's taking, in the last week or two, a more sober, serious tone on some of these issues, yes. If it's really changing fundamentally his stance on what he's going to do across the board on immigration, that's a little harder. I think his campaign is trying to still find that sweet spot where they don't alienate either their supporters or more swing voters or more, particularly, Latino voters.

He didn't -- last night in his speech, he never actually said exactly what he's going to do about it. Forget about criminal aliens but people who are just here without documentation. It seemed -- he seemed to suggest that people were going to have to go back to their home countries, which is that's the case, it is really hard to see how those folks are ever going to wind back here.

BLITZER: He said, of the 11 million, Rebecca, he said of the 11 million who are here illegally, he said if they want to have legal status, not necessarily citizenship, just legal resident status, they first have to leave the country, go back home. He said go to their home countries and then apply with everyone else to come in.

But he left open the possibility if they don't want to do that, if they don't want to go home and apply for legal status, he said we'll figure out what to do with them down the road.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It sounded like he did have an intention of making that his policy but that he wasn't going to prioritize it relative to border security, relative to building the wall, relative to deporting criminals who are here illegally in the first place.

And so it did seem pretty clear that he did want what we call sort of a touch-back policy for undocumented immigrants who hadn't committed any crimes. That they would go back to their countries of origin and then potentially return to the United States to earn legalized status.

That's not really a softening from a hardline immigration position. It still requires people to leave the country first, whereas a more moderate position would have been, well, if people -- and this is actually something that Trump was toying with in his interview with Sean Hannity. If people haven't committed any crimes but they're here illegally, but they've been citizens -- they've been residents in good standing, then they could earn legalized status without leaving the country. But that would have been more moderate.

BLITZER: We saw some members of his Hispanic Advisory Council abandoning him today, because they hated the speech last night. ZELENY: We did. And that certainly is -- is the worst thing that he

could have, and not just for reaching out to Hispanic voters. It's the other voters he's trying to get along the way here by trying to appear and trying to sort of, you know, recast his image a bit.

[18:40:05] You know, again, those suburban women voters, other people who see people jumping ship, why would they stay on board?

LIZZA: I think they feel embarrassed. Remember, back on August 20, he convened this Hispanic advisory group. The RNC promoted it with press releases. They let in the cameras. And it was a big deal for the Trump campaign. And out of that meeting, the reporting said that he was going to soften, that he was going to talk about legalization. I think a lot of those Hispanic members of that advisory board feel burned.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys. Stand by. There's more to assess. Just ahead, the vice president, Joe Biden, slams Donald Trump, saying he's out of touch with average Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give me a break. This is a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth that now he's choking on, because his foot is in his mouth along with the spoon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:28] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton raising a record $143 million for her campaign and for her party in month of August. This as Democrats hammer Trump on his immigration policy, claiming he choked in his meeting with the Mexican president.

Let's bring back our senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's got more on what's going on -- Jeff.

ZELENY: Wolf, it was a record setting August for Clinton, $62 million for her campaign and $81 million for the Democratic Party. Taken together at $143 million fundraising number represents a financially fruitful month for the campaign.

But controversies have also taken their toll. She started August with a ten-point lead in our CNN poll of polls, an average of the five most recent surveys. Tonight, her edge is only half that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Democrats are flooding the zone tonight, trying to block a Donald Trump pivot. From Vice President Joe Biden in Ohio --

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth that now he is choking on because his foot is in his mouth, along with the spoon.

ZELENY: -- to vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in New Hampshire.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's not be tricked by Trump. This campaign has kind of got the elements of a big con going with it.

ZELENY: It is an all-out effort to prevent Trump from getting a second look by independent voters and skeptical Republicans, as summer ends and the race kicks into higher gear after Labor Day.

Trump hit Clinton hard on trade today in Ohio, casting himself as a friend of the working man.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: No state has been hurt worse, really, by Hillary Clinton on trade policies than Ohio.

ZELENY: Biden said not so fast, urging voters to listen more carefully to Trump.

BIDEN: My biggest problem with Donald Trump, I'll tell you about it in a minute, it's not his cockamamie policies. It's the way he treats people.

ZELENY: Clinton spent the day off the campaign trail, exhaling after a record setting fundraising month. She raised more than $140 million for her campaign and the Democratic Party in a coast to coast August sprint, the biggest haul of any month so far. She is putting some of that money to work, trying to expand the map of battleground states.

The first target, Arizona, where Trump leads by only five point, it's where he gave a fiery immigration speech Wednesday night.

TRUMP: Trojan horse, watch what's going to happen, folks.

ZELENY: And today, the Clinton campaign is airing its first ad in Arizona, saying Trump's rhetoric is not suitable for children.

TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists.

ZELENY: Still, the race is far closer than Democrats would like. Even after Trump's rough August, polls show Clinton's lead is far from a runaway. The latest CNN poll of polls showing the five most recent national surveys has Clinton leading Trump, 42-37, with libertarian candidate Gary Johnson at 9. As state polls show the race tightening in some battlegrounds, Kaine telling CNN's Chris Cuomo Democrats can't be complacent.

KAINE: It's close. This is not going to be easy. Never for a minute have I thought this was going to be smooth-sailing. I thought this was going to be a tough, tough, campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, as for that Arizona play, the Clinton campaign believes it's possible to be competitive, but those new ads are also designed to keep the Trump campaign busy. Arizona is a reliably red state and if Trump is fighting there, he's not spending his time elsewhere, Wolf, so a bit of gamesmanship here. We'll see if they keep those ads up.

BLITZER: We're watching together with you, Jeff. Thank you very much. Jeff Zeleny reporting.

Just ahead, another check on the hurricane that's bearing right now on Florida, threatening millions of Americans in the state and beyond in the hours ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I accept your nomination!

TRUMP: For the presidency of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: "The Essential Hillary Clinton".

CLINTON: We are stronger together, in charting a course toward the future.

ANNOUNCER: "The Essential Donald Trump".

TRUMP: I love you and we will make America great again.

ANNOUNCER: All on one blockbuster night.

Clinton has been called the most famous person no one knows.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF HILLARY CLINTON: I never understand that, it is so clear to me who my mother is. She never forgets who she is fighting for and she's fighting first and foremost for children and for families.

ANNOUNCER: Trump has a passion for business and the spotlight.

[18:50:01] DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No one is going to outwork him. No one has got more energy than him.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: He always said to us, find what it is that you're passionate about and pursue it with your full heart.

ANNOUNCER: They are stories from the people who know them best, CNN Special Report. Hillary Clinton at 8:00, Donald Trump at 10:00, CNN Labor Day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:06] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Hurricane Hermine is due to hit northern Florida just hours from now. It will bring potentially deadly storm surges of up to eight feet. Florida's governor is calling it life-threatening and there are storm warnings and watches up the East Coast as far as New Jersey.

Our CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is in the Florida target area right now.

Jennifer, what's it like?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, these are the strongest winds that we've experienced so far, and you can definitely tell that the waters are rising, as well. I am standing on a floating dock, but between these docks and the ones just behind there are docks that are completely under water and the water has been rising by the hour.

I'll ask my photographer to turn around because you can see these roofs, and the tin roofs and the winds are just ripping them off.

So, this is what we talk about when we talk about storm safety, flying debris, storm surge and all of that is extremely dangerous and that's why the preparations are so important and that's why the evacuations are so important especially this part of the stage that's incredibly vulnerable to storm surge.

Some areas could see anywhere from five to nine feet of storm surge as we go through the overnight hours.

And so, evacuating those coastal zones was definitely important. Hopefully, everyone got out of harm's way, Wolf. That's not the only concern. We'll have the concern of tornadoes as we go through the late evening and overnight hours, the flooding rains and the very, very strong wind, Wolf. This is just the beginning. Many hours to go.

BLITZER: Be careful over there. Good luck. Good luck to all the folks down there, as well, Jennifer Gray reporting.

And stay with CNN tonight for a film that pulls back the curtain on a spiritual community with a charismatic, but terrifying leader.

Kyung Lah has a preview of "Holy Hell".

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm experiencing a higher part of myself.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're easy to dismiss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And happiness is wherever you are.

LAH: The spellbound followers of an eccentric spiritual leader, a man who often wears nothing but Speedos, promising enlightening while some say addicted to his own vanity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His eyes, his this, his lips.

LAH: Operating on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the group today is robust with more than 100 followers here. Who could be drawn to this? WILL ALLEN, FORMER MEMBER: You know, we all willingly did this

adventure and we all jumped into this and we all thought we knew what we were doing.

LAH: Will Allen is the creator of the film "Holy Hell" airing on CNN. He and these people in the film came from middle class families and are college-educated, brought together and drawn slowly in, seeking community, religion.

ALLEN: I would call it a cult because it has one leader at the top, who's on mission, supposed our mission, that you're giving your power to.

LAH: Allen says for decades, he rejected his parents and friends, dedicating all his time and money to his leader's teachings. A story told again and again by followers in the film.

RICK ALAN ROSS, CULTS INSIDE OUT: We're not talking about stupid people.

LAH: Rick Alan Ross is an expert on cults and author of the book "Cults Inside Out". He says trying to force a member out of a suspected cult often backfires.

ROSS: That may lead to further isolation of the person that's involved in the group. Be positive. Do not be critical or negative.

LAH: Recent history is riddled with examples with people who refuse to leave extreme groups and the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, 76 people died, including their leader, in a standoff with federal agents.

And in Jonestown, the people's temple led by Jim Jones in a mass suicide in more than 900 of those followers. But many groups never get to this point, existing legally in a gray area that doesn't break the law.

(on camera): In the nine years that the group has been here in Hawaii, there have been some misdemeanor issues between members and former members of the group. But the Honolulu Police Department has never opened up a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the group itself or its leader.

(voice-over): Families are often left watching helplessly as they lose contact. Others turn to cult interventions forcibly pulling them out. Will Allen hopes by sharing his experience, his film serves as a warning beacon to the vulnerable.

ALLEN: By making this movie, at least I lay down this canvas where we can go, OK, we can talk about this now.

LAH (on camera): We reached out to the leader for comment and he did send us a written statement, writing, quote, "It is heartbreaking to see how history has been rewritten. It is devastating to see these friends who were once so filled with love for the world become so angry. I any of my actions were a catalyst for their disharmony, I am truly sorry."

He declined to speak to CNN on camera.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And the CNN film "Holy Hell" airs later tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.