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Interview With White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney; Hurricane Aftermath; U.S. Virgin Islands Facing Dire Circumstances. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Three days after Irma and, tragically, authorities are still finding dead bodies.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The death toll rising, as is the level of desperation for those who survived, people without food, without water, without electricity, with temperatures heating up.

President Trump sitting down for dinner with Democrats tonight, with tax reform expected to be on the menu. Is this the art of the deal or just a sketch?

Plus, Senator Ted Cruz talked to CNN, answering some uncomfortable questions about that pornographic tweet that his Twitter account liked.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with our national lead, Hurricane Irma's devastation.

Massive widespread power outages across the Southeastern United States. Millions of Americans still without electricity, and, sadly, today, we may have seen the danger that can pose. At least six people at a Florida nursing home have died.

People say that the early indication is that the lack of power might be to blame. It brings the death toll from Irma to 77 people in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Others struggling to survive. Some residents telling CNN they are having trouble finding food with which to feed their families.

And the supplies distributed by authorities, they vanish quickly. Without electricity or cell service, many in the Florida Keys have not been able yet to contact loved ones to tell them they're OK.

A couple of residents, however, used CNN's satellite phone earlier today to do just that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm fine. Everyone is good. Please get in contact with mom and the rest of the cousins and friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't know when they're going to open the road yet.

All right. I will try. I love you, dad.


TAPPER: "I love you, dad."

FEMA has warned it might be weeks before power in Florida can be fully restored, while temperatures in parts of the Sunshine State are expected to be in the 90s.

CNN's Kyung Lah has been making her way to the Lower Keys. She's live for us right now in Big Pine Key. That's just east of Key West.

Kyung, at least eight people in that part of the state died during Hurricane Irma. That number remains in flux. It is a challenge for crews going door to door searching for more potential victims.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because they still have so much to go through. Remember, the Lower Keys is not open yet for residents, so those door-to-door searches are still ongoing.

And what we're talking about here are houses that have been destroyed, like this one. This resident has got to work on this sort of repair, but none of this can be done without the basics that you are talking about, cell, power, water.

But today there are some glimmers that some of it is coming back.


LAH (voice-over): This is Route 1, Florida's only path to a paradise pummelled by Irma. A supply line now open to those desperate for critical supplies. In the Upper Keys, businesses are slowly reopening.

This gas station in Key Largo is among the first to welcome customers in a region frantic for fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I have been up in Homestead for the last few days, so it was nice to find it here. Little shorter lines.

LAH (on camera): Shorter lines here than Homestead?


LAH (voice-over): Those in line wary in the wake of the storm. Days after the hurricane's eye made landfall here, search-and-research teams are still conducting door-to-door checks in the hardest-hit areas.

Resources are running low for many that chose to ride out the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no gas, there's no water. Just stay away for about two weeks.

LAH: Others attempt to clean up the mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, a lot of it is luck too. Tornadoes had a lot to do with a lot of the damage. You can see where tornadoes just came through and ripped and tore everything up.

LAH: According to FEMA, 90 percent of the homes in the Florida Keys are damaged or destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shutters just rattled.

LAH: But even in Cudjoe Key, there are a lucky few.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For being directly in the eye, we're very fortunate. And I know people on that side are less fortunate.

LAH: In many areas of the Keys, cell phone service is nonexistent. These residents borrowed CNN's satellite phones to reconnect with family for the first time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, dad.

LAH: For the thousands more yet to return after evacuating paradise, a difficult scene awaits.


LAH: They are outside of the roadblock. There is a roadblock separating the Upper Keys from the Lower Keys.

On the upper side of the Keys, from residents who want to see how their homes are on the Lower Keys, there is mounting frustration. But on the other side, the estimated 10,000 who decided to stay and ride out the storm, Jake, there is increasing need day by day, the need for water, power and communications -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

CNN's John Berman is also in Big Pine Key.

John, tell us about the dangerous conditions that have authorities limiting who can come back home.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's the problem, Jake.

If you stayed or if you are coming back, what you are coming back to is basically an island with no communication, no link to the outside world. Cell service is down. You can't make an outside call unless you have a satellite phone.

There's limited water, there's limited food and really fuel is quite limited. So if you are down here, you are really on your own and authorities want to have to take care of as few people as they can.

The first need is for the people who stuck it out, like the people in this house behind me right now. You can just see this entire house was just wiped out. The storm surge came right through that wall and carried the beach through the house on to the ground where I'm standing right now.

I was talking to the owners earlier. Jake, let me show you this. I noticed we were standing right on this. I said, well, what's that? The owner of this house, Harry, said, that's my bathroom. His bathroom here washed out on to the sand here.

I will tell you, Jake, the necessities are starting to arrive, albeit slowly. Food is here. The military convoys have been running north and south. The people in this house were able to get a resupply of food and water. But, again, more than anything, they just want to be able to reach the outside world, tell them they're OK. They also want information. They want to know when more help is coming and when they can expect things to get back up online here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, John Berman, thank you so much.

Let's go now to CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's at the horrific scene in Hollywood, Florida, where at least six people died after a nursing home incident right next door to a hospital, of all places.

Elizabeth, do we know how long these bodies were inside? There must be tremendous concern that nobody was checking on these seniors.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Exactly, Jake, especially since there is a hospital, a big, well-respected hospital right nearby, so that's especially frustrating.

There are so many questions and there are so few answers at this point.


COHEN (voice-over): The call for help came in shortly after 4:00 Wednesday morning. An elderly resident at this Hollywood, Florida, nursing home having a heart attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we arrived on the scene with our fire rescue crews, we saw that there were a number of people in respiratory distress and other distress.

COHEN: Three people found dead in a nursing home. Three more people died after they were evacuated to a nearby hospital. The cause of death still under investigation. The nursing home says its air conditioning system lost power after Hurricane Irma struck on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once we determined that we had multiple deaths at the facilities and that the facilities are extremely hot, we made the decision to evacuate all of the patients. COHEN: Fire and rescue teams mobilizing nine rescue units. This blue

tent erected to triage evacuating residents, 115 people, some critically in need of care. They were transported to local hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the patients have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues.

COHEN: Police so far declining to say just how hot it was inside the nursing home. In a statement, the rehabilitation center at Hollywood Hills said: "Facility administration is cooperating fully with relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to this unfortunate and tragic outcome. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of those who were affected."

The building now sealed off as police conduct a criminal investigation inside.

TOMAS SANCHEZ, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: It's a sad event. As a precautionary measure, we have assigned police officers to go check all the other 42 assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the city to make sure that they're in sufficient care of the elderly.

COHEN: Approximately 150 nursing homes in Florida still don't have power fully restored. Virtually all of them relying on generators to meet the needs of residents under their care.


COHEN: Jake, speaking of those generators, we took a look at some Florida inspection reports. Of course, these facilities are inspected by the state on a regular basis.

I'm going to read to you from a February 2016 report. "The emergency generator, which is a temporary generator, had not been replaced, nor had plans for a permanent generator installation been submitted."

And then in December 2014, "When tested, the remote alarm -- the remote generator alarm located near the nurse's station failed to function," in other words, an alarm for the generator. "If not maintained, the emergency generator may fail without the staff being aware."

Now, these two violations, the state says, were corrected pretty soon after the violations were cited -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Elizabeth Cohen in Hollywood, Florida, for us, thank you so much.

The president hosting Chuck and Nancy for dinner at the White House this evening. What political deals might be on the table? Our next guest will be there, too.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney joins me after this quick break. Stick around.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

Tomorrow, President Trump will visit storm-ravaged Florida, where millions remain without power and many are suffering in the oppressive heat.

Moody's Analytics estimates the damages from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey could cost upwards of $200 billion.

Joining me now is White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Director Mulvaney, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

The devastation from Irma and Harvey remarkable, horrific. Yesterday, CNN's Martin Savidge toured a section of Houston where possessions are still strewn about on the street. Homes are likely a total loss. The damage estimates for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as you heard me say, may come up to $200 billion.

Is the White House going to be willing to pay for some of that?


And keep in mind, my folks live in Key West, so I am hearing the same stories out of Florida at the same time. In fact, I think in Florida, there are still some situations where we're still doing search-and- rescue.

But, yes, as we move beyond the emergency situation -- that's still where we are. And the priority right now is still taking care of the people who need it right away.

[16:15:04] We will start to do things like measure the damage.

I haven't heard that $200 billion number, until you just mentioned it, but it is going to be a significant amount of money. And, yes, the federal government is going to step up. Keep in mind, those numbers that you hear oftentimes are the total damage numbers, not, for example, the uninsured loss or things that are covered by federal programs. So, it's really too early for a bunch of different reasons to start focusing on specific numbers.

What we're going to do is -- because of the action of the House and Senate, the White House helped with last week, on getting supplemental appropriations for FEMA, there looks to be plenty of money in FEMA for roughly the next month and a half, or so, sometimes in mid-October. At that time, I think it would be appropriate to look our hand over and see what money FEMA would need to get through sort of this medium term, maybe the end of the year. And that's -- by that time, I think by the end of the year, we have a chance to start looking at those really big numbers of what it is going to cost to help repair and rebuild both Texas and Florida.

TAPPER: Will those funds need to be offset by cuts in other parts of the budget, according to President Trump?

MULVANEY: One of the things that we did, Jake, last week was try to make sure that the amount of money that we got to FEMA was large enough to get the job done but small enough to prove to people that were handling the money responsibly. I think one of the things you saw -- I was involved with the Sandy discussions two years ago -- was that this huge $60 billion number came out without a lot of backing to it, and that raised a lot of questions about, was the money being spent properly?

And I think what you're going to see both from governor in Texas, governor of Florida, and the president do is say, look, let's look very closely what the damage is, and make sure we're taking care of the taxpayers' money but also making sure we're getting the money to the folks who actually need it. So, we're going to handle this in a business like, responsible fashion while still showing tremendous compassion for the folks who have been injured.

TAPPER: You've said that it's a waste of taxpayer money to research and to fight climate change. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has concluded that climate change is happening, that human activity is contributing to it and that the warming of the planet and ocean temperatures creates conditions that allow for storms to get bigger and stronger and more intense.

Given all that, and given the havoc that we've seen, why is fighting it or trying to learn more about it a waste of money?

MULVANEY: Jake, I'll be more than happy to have a longer discussion on another day about climate change, man-made climate change. Keep in mind, what we are focusing on right now is taking care of the folks who survived this disaster, the folks who need our immediate help.

There's plenty of time later on to have those discussions and I know that we will because climate change is clearly a big topic for the media, but we will continue to sort of focus our attention on the folks who need it right now.

TAPPER: All right. It's a big topic for the whole world. Btu I do want to move on to a couple of issues before our time runs out.

According to the "Washington Post", President Trump has a gentlemen's agreement with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to take the debt ceiling vote out of the hands of Congress. You used to be, as you and I talk about often, a Tea Party fiscal conservative Congress. Do you support that taking that out of the reins of Congress?

MULVANEY: Yes, I was in that meeting with Senator Schumer. In fact, he'll be back again tonight at dinner and I'll be participating in that as well.

What the president told me after the meeting, pulled me aside, and said, look, how do we depoliticize this, how do we stop letting this get in the way of proper management of the government? This is a businessman who's leading the government right now and he can't understand why these leverage points come up purely in his mind for political reasons.

So, I think what he's asked me to do is to figure out a way to sort of dial down the temperature, to depoliticize the debt ceiling, to see if there's a way to deal with it in a business-like fashion and not allow it to be this sort of leverage point that one party or the other can sort of bring things to a precipice in the markets and so forth.

So, we're going to continue to look at that. Looks now like we're going to have at least until February to have to raise the debt ceiling again or deal with the debt ceiling. So, there's plenty of time to research that issue, lay out the options for the president and see which way he wants to go.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, tonight, the president is going to have dinner with Schumer and Pelosi, you're going to be there. You're going to discuss tax reform, DACA, other issues. Is the president taking a new approach to governance where he no longer let McConnell and Ryan run the show, that he is now kind of leading a different way, dealing with Democrats trying to form new coalitions?

MULVANEY: I look at it this way. I think what the president has done is slightly change the way he's looked at Washington. For the last several months, he's looked at Washington through a partisan sort of lens, right? And we worked very closely with the House and Senate Republican leadership, sometimes successful. Sometimes as with health care in the Senate, not so much.

And I think what the president's now realizing is he wants to get things done. This is a very results-oriented leader that we have elected and he wants to accomplish things and get things done. And I think he's looking now at folks in Washington and asking, OK, who can help me do this? Who can help me accomplish the things I want to accomplish? Who can help me get parts of my agenda done?

And that's who he is looking to work with. If it's Republicans, that's great. If it's Democrats, that's great, too. He wants to accomplish things because he thinks that's what he's elected for.

[16:20:01] And honestly, I happen to agree with that.

TAPPER: White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, always good to see you, sir. Thanks for your time.

MULVANEY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Take a look at this from NASA. On the top, the lush Caribbean paradise that was once the Virgin Islands. On the bottom, how Hurricane Irma just wiped it away. We're going to go live to the U.S. Virgin Islands, next.


TAPPER: We're back now with the world lead.

Dire conditions on the Caribbean Islands nearly a week after Hurricane Irma's landfall. Food and water are running out. There are more reports of looting amid desperation. FEMA says response and relief operations will continue on the U.S. Virgin Islands, but many Americans in the U.S. territory fear they may soon be forgotten.

CNN's Sara Sidner joins me now from the beautiful island of St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And, Sara, you just arrived moments ago. It doesn't look good.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it really is kind of awe-struck looking at this, because when you come in, we came in from St. Croix on a boat.

[16:25:04] And when you come in, you see suddenly all these boats overturned. Then you see masts that are just sticking out of the water and you can't see the boat at all.

And as you get closer and closer to land, you see the destruction. You see the missing roofs, you see houses obliterated. You see all the power lines that are down and they are in the roads all over this island.

It really is a tragic mess.


SIDNER (voice-over): On St. John, the smallest of the three major islands, and arguably most ruggedly beautiful, Hurricane Irma swept away life as we knew it. Nearly 30 square miles of island wiped out.

It took life here as well. The struggle for survival crushing, the suffering endless. Most of the inhabitants on this island lost what little they had.

Most have no means to rebuild without a herculean relief effort. Help is on the way, but it has taken far too long, nearly a week for it to arrive.

A few miles away on another island, more tragedy. In St. Thomas, the stunning landscape that attracts tourists from around the world is decimated. The sheer force of sustained winds at tornadic speeds turned this island inside out in spots. From St. John to St. Thomas and elsewhere in the Caribbean, there is no end to the destruction.

St. Maarten is a pile of rubble and sticks that were once homes and hotels and businesses. Nothing was left untouched by the punishing winds.

Right now, in much of the Caribbean, life is anything but paradise.


SIDNER: So, here is a telltale sign that a hurricane with a category of 5 hit this island. Look at that tree. This entire island's usually rush and green and gorgeous. And there is not a leaf that you can find on any of the branches all over this island. That tells you how strong the winds are because they ripped all of the leaves off of all of the beautiful trees here -- Jake.

TAPPER: Horrific devastation to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

Senator Ted Cruz talking about Twitter and the adults-only content that someone liked using his account. His response to some tough questions, coming up next.