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THE SITUATION ROOM
Republicans Target Health Care; Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Trump Threatens to Wipe Out North Korea; Earthquake Hits Mexico; GOP Senators Scramble on Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal Bill; Growing Push to Expel North Korea from U.N.; Interview with Senator Benjamin Cardin on Affordable Health Care Act; President Trump's speech at the United Nations. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 19, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Millions of Americans now in the path of another monster hurricane. We're tracking Maria as it plows through the Caribbean with Category 5-force winds.
Total destruction. President Trump uses his first speech at the United Nations to deliver a doomsday warning to North Korea. New reaction this hour to his bombastic language and his vision of a world that is -- quote -- "going to hell."
And last-ditch attempt. Heading down to the wire for Republicans who are now struggling with how to vote on a desperate new bid to repeal Obamacare. We're going to tell you who's on board tonight and who's on the fence.
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 news tonight, two devastating natural disasters are unfolding right now.
We're just beginning to get a sense of the destruction from a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Central Mexico, rocking the capital of Mexico City about 75 miles away from the epicenter. At least 57 people are dead, but that's just a very preliminary account. There's reports of buildings collapsing, cars being crushed, people trapped. Stand by, new details coming in.
Also breaking, a pulverizing hurricane is barrelling towards millions of Americans, the third catastrophic storm impacting U.S. citizens this month. A new forecast shows Maria is approaching two U.S. territories, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as a Category 5 hurricane. Residents are now bracing what could be a direct hit in the hours ahead.
Also tonight, sources tell CNN that United Nations diplomats were taken aback by President Trump's debut speech before the U.N. General Assembly. Mr. Trump threatening to totally destroy North Korea if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies. He says Kim Jong-un is on a suicide mission with his nuclear and missile programs, once again mocking the North Korean dictator as the Rocket Man.
The president telling U.N. members that parts of the world are -- quote -- "going to hell" and vowing he will always put America first.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
Brian, you're getting new details on the earthquake in Mexico. What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest figures we have on casualties tonight, at least 57 people dead from this earthquake in the states of Puebla, Morelos, and the state of Mexico.
President Enrique Pena Nieto also says 27 structures collapsed in Mexico City. These are very early assessments of what will almost certainly become a rising death toll and escalating damage estimates.
TODD (voice-over): In the streets of Mexico tonight, panic and pandemonium. A major earthquake, a 7.1, shook Central Mexico shortly after 2:10 p.m. Eastern time, hitting in a heavily populated area just 75 miles southeast of Mexico City.
The quake struck 33 miles below the earth's surface. The shallow depth could mean that destruction will stretch far across the region. As buildings swayed, thousands of people fled office buildings and homes, only to see glass shatter and roads split open. Passengers forced to evacuate Mexico City's international airport.
This scene from Mexican television shows firefighters digging through rubble of what appears to be a collapsed building. Tonight, Mexico City schools are closed and Mexico's president has called for a national emergency committee meeting to assess the damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody here is scared. I mean, you can see it. People are worried.
TODD: Today's quake ironically comes on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake that killed thousands and destroyed much of the capital. People in the city had spent part of today holding drills.
TODD: This earthquake today comes just two weeks after a magnitude- 8.1 earthquake shook Mexico. The president's office told CNN that President Pena Nieto had been visiting those devastated by that disaster when this one struck today. Also tonight, Wolf, another estimate that will very likely rise.
About 3.8 million customers have had their electricity disrupted by this earthquake. That is according to officials of Mexico's federal commission of electricity, Wolf. All of these horrible numbers are very likely going to be rising throughout the evening and into tomorrow.
BLITZER: Very preliminary numbers indeed.
Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Let's get a live report now from the earthquake disaster zone.
We're joined on the phone by Joshua Partlow. He's the Mexico City bureau chief for "The Washington Post."
So, Joshua, what was it like?
JOSHUA PARTLOW, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Wolf, it was a strong, scary earthquake.
Everyone was running out. (INAUDIBLE) And people (INAUDIBLE) hundreds of thousands of people (INAUDIBLE) looking for survivors.
BLITZER: What did it feel like? Where were you when you began to feel this earthquake?
PARTLOW: I was just in the office. The lights, the hanging lamp started swaying.
BLITZER: I think we have lost our connection with Joshua Partlow.
We're going to try to reconnect him. Joshua Partlow is the Mexico City bureau chief of "The Washington Post."
Totally understandable that you lose these technical connections, given what is going on over there.
Tonight, Central Mexico is clearly on alert for any major aftershocks that could make this earthquake disaster even worse.
Let's check in with our meteorologist, Tom Sater.
Tom, very strong earthquake, 7.1 magnitude. Tell our viewers what we can now anticipate.
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think for the next not just several hours but the next several days and weeks, aftershocks will start occurring.
And when you have a significant quake such as a 7.0, 7.1, the next one would be -- the highest could be a 6.1. It drops down significantly, but this is our ring of fire on the edge of the Pacific. This is where the high mountainous range is. This is the very active tectonic plates, 450 volcanoes, Wolf. 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur in this area.
And no doubt about it. There's the West Coast of the U.S. down into New Mexico. Here's what we have for you.
Usually, we will have one 8.1 a year. We just had that 11 days ago. It was the southern coast of Mexico. Between a 7 and 7.9, we have 15. We've had a few of these. But this one is interesting to come so close.
Are they related? Most likely not. Now you can, if they were a little bit closer, since we had an 8.0 11 days ago, if we were to have a 7.1, that could have been an aftershock. But we think they're different locations, so really not related, so to speak, 32 miles in depth.
That's still considered shallow. Sometimes, down to even 44 miles can be considered shallow. But we see these hundred of miles deep around the world.
Here's the shake map. When it comes to light shaking, over 20.5 million people, moderate, 14 million. Strong shaking, this is where you want to start -- this is probably where you start seeing a lot of the destruction, 15 million.
And then 1.6 million felt very strong. We could even get in closer and give you an idea of the shake map. This comes from the USGS. First, what you're noticing here, these yellow dots, these are aftershocks from the 8.0 that we had just 11 days ago.
We will start to see more of that activity in the hours and days ahead. So everything yellow is over a week old. So they have been getting some aftershocks. Interesting to note though just how high the death toll has already risen with this.
Getting closer, here's Mexico city. We will start to see some colors of green, even yellow. So, they were an extreme periphery of this, Mexico City. But even with that said, feeling strong shaking that far away, you can understand why a lot of the structures have been compromised and some of them collapsed or even had facade issues.
Back to our maps and back to what we can expect quickly for you, Wolf, fatalities, again, based on computer models by the USGS, you want to see green. That's where no fatalities may have occurred, especially if they're really deep.
But this is considered shallow, so in yellow, we have a 19 percent chance to have 10 to 100 fatalities and a 39 percent chance, Wolf, to have 100 to 1,000. Let's hope that's not the case here, but it is rising quickly.
BLITZER: Yes, let's hope it's not.
BLITZER: We're also getting live pictures right now coming in from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as you can see. Check it out. The wind and the surf already beginning to pick up there.
A state of emergency is in effect in Puerto Rico, as we have mentioned, Hurricane Maria threatening homes and lives. Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico, as you know.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's on the island for us tonight.
Nick, so what are the conditions like there? Because in the coming hours, you're going to get walloped with this storm.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the east coast that should first see landfall, we're hearing here, about 8:00, 9:00 tomorrow morning.
It could well be the coast behind me. That is the moments where it first hits land at 165 miles an hour. As you heard there, you have to be really over 89 years old to have experienced anything like this in Puerto Rico's history.
That storm surge, well, it could well possibly reach to nearly twice my height as I stand here now. And we're seeing this beach resort evacuated, although strangely actually people on beach buggies popping down to the sand there to get perhaps the last glance, as this obvious storm begins to approach and the skies have begun to darken around me, the clouds moving very fast above me.
We're beginning to feel it pick up here. But Puerto Rico really still reeling from just two weeks ago Hurricane Irma itself. That caused a billion dollars worth of damage and has left even still now 46,000 people without electricity.
And the debate really is, has that hurricane left people in a higher state of readiness? It really only caused a glancing blow to this island. Maria is supposed to go straight across it, making landfall here and, according to the latest hurricane survey update, perhaps dispensing most of its high-speed energy on the island itself, across San Juan, the capital, a state of emergency here.
Many shelters in place, but very serious concerns about the next 24 hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And 3.5 million people living in Puerto Rico, 3.5 million people U.S. citizens.
Nick Paton Walsh, we will check back with you as well.
And now to President Trump's debut speech at the United Nations laced with bombastic language and truly extraordinary threats. He saved some of his toughest talk for the North Korean dictator he now refers to as Rocket Man.
[18:15:08] Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is over at the
United Nations for us tonight.
Jim, this was not a typical speech we hear from a U.S. president at the United Nations.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, unlike many speech that many of those delegates, diplomats in the room had ever heard from a U.S. president.
I spoke to a senior U.N. official, diplomat shortly after the speech. And he described himself and others around him as taken aback in particular by that line the president threatening to obliterate a country, North Korea, from the map.
He said it was an emotional reaction, that it felt like, in the words of this diplomat, that a wind had swept through the room, and of course the line about North Korea just one of many bold lines in a defining speech for the Trump foreign policy.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): In his maiden speech before the U.N., President Donald Trump delivered a blistering attack on nations he described as evil and grave dangers to the world.
TRUMP: If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people in nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.
SCIUTTO: The president giving the more than 150 international delegations present an up-front look at his America-first policy.
TRUMP: As president of the United States, I will always put America first.
SCIUTTO: He reserved his boldest threat for North Korea, vowing in unequivocal terms to destroy the country if it threatens America's or its allies security.
TRUMP: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.
SCIUTTO: For Iran, Trump described government as murderous and reckless and appeared to signal that he will exit the Iran nuclear deal.
TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you have heard the last of it, believe me. SCIUTTO: Praising Mr. Trump's remarks was Israel Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he had -- quote -- "never heard a bolder or more courageous speech in three decades of experience with the U.N."
The president's address also taking aim on what he described as growing terrorist threats around the globe.
TRUMP: The United States and our allies are working together throughout the Middle East to crush the loser terrorists.
SCIUTTO: Beyond the threats, Trump's speech more clearly articulated the outlines of his foreign policy, including a drastic turn from a tent of U.S. foreign policy for decades, that the U.S. will support democracy abroad.
TRUMP: This is the foundation for cooperation and success. Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.
SCIUTTO: Those words and phrases about sovereignty, different values, loaded terms in the halls of the U.N., often repeated by authoritarian leaders in China, in Russia, in Africa in response to the U.S. pushing back against what they call preaching about human rights records, et cetera, often heard here, but not from the mouths of an American president, whether Democrat or Republican, if followed through upon, would represent a significant change in U.S. foreign policy under Trump, Wolf, going forward.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto at the United Nations for us tonight, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Joining us, Senator Ben Cardin. He's the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
So, you heard the president say today that if the United States is forced to defend itself from the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea, it will have, in his words, no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Do you agree with that?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, it's very good to be with you.
Just look at the venue of the speech before the United Nations, before the international community. I don't think his remarks were well- received by our allies and I don't think they were well-received by our foes.
[18:20:00] We know that we have to deal with a dangerous North Korea. The
international community should be there to help us. The president's comments puts a wedge in our type of international coalition.
We need to find a diplomatic solution. A military solution will have catastrophic effect. We need to explore diplomacy. And that means working with our friends and allies.
BLITZER: What if the diplomatic solution doesn't happen, if the North Korea continue to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and they're capable of putting nuclear warheads on those missiles and they threaten the United States? Can the U.S. live with that?
CARDIN: Wolf, what North Korea is doing is extremely dangerous.
They're the ones causing the problems. They would be violating international rules if that were to occur. We have an obligation to defend ourselves. I understand that.
But there is a diplomatic path that could work. The president is not doing everything we can to explore that route. China and the United States have a common objective to prevent North Korea from becoming an effective nuclear weapons state. China and North Korea have a common agenda to preserve the Kim regime. The United States is more interested in the nuclear issues than regime change.
We need to talk to China, get China to believe that our interests are together, because they are, and then China can change the equation in North Korea. I know that that's not a slam-dunk, and there's long shots on all of this. But it's the best path forward.
And the president needs to engage the international community to work with this, particularly China and also Russia. Today's speech did not help. In fact, it made it more difficult.
BLITZER: The president also seemed to threaten to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. You voted against it.
Would you support that decision, if he were to go forward and say the U.S. no longer believes Iran is in compliance and the U.S. is abandoning that agreement?
CARDIN: Wolf, I don't think he's going to do that.
Our concern is that he will rip up the agreement, even though Iran is not in violation of the nuclear agreement. We have already had two certifications under the Trump administration of compliance. We're not aware of any material breach by Iran of the nuclear agreement.
President Trump's concerns, and I think many members of Congress, our concerns are on the non-nuclear front not covered by the agreement. So, if the United States were to rip up the nuclear agreement, we would be the ones walking away.
Our European allies would scratch their heads, figuring out, what are we doing isolating the United States, when we're trying to isolate Iran?
BLITZER: Senator, there's more we need to discuss. There are other developments breaking right now.
Got to take a quick break. We will resume our interview right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
We want to talk to him about this last-ditch effort under way right now by his Republican colleagues in the Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But, first, let's get the latest from our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.
Phil, Senate Republicans, they huddled behind close doors a little while ago, but it's not clear at all whether they can get the votes they need to pass this bill.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf.
Look, they're short. They know that right now. They don't have the 50 votes they need to be able to move forward on this. And you talk about that closed-door meeting. It was extremely important for two reasons. One, you had people like Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the co-authors of the bill, come in and kind of give their rah-rah moment.
This is really their last opportunity to do this, if they want to squeeze it inside that budget window that allows them to pass this with a simple majority. Next week is it. There are no other alternatives. So, for those who campaigned on this for year after year after year, this is your last chance.
But, more importantly -- and this is what's going on behind closed doors, too -- is the policy. This is isn't proposal a lot of senators have gotten their heads around yet. And that is a proposal that drastically shifts how health care operates inside the United States of America.
And one of the primary issues here is this. It changes even from past Republican repeal plans the Obamacare subsidy structure or the tax credit structure. It takes all of that money and the money from the Medicaid expansion from Obamacare and puts it into block grants which would be sent out to states.
You have Republican senators that come from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare that would almost certainly lose money because of that, people like Senator Lisa Murkowski. She and Senator John McCain, by far, Wolf, the two primary targets right now. And when you have what happened behind closed doors today and what's
going to happen in the days ahead, what's most important, administration officials making clear they're going to be laser- focused on trying to get those senators the information they need about what could happen with the block grants, but perhaps more importantly, fixes that they request on how the formulas would work, how that money would be divvied out.
That will be their focus going forward. They want to give Lisa Murkowski essentially, what I was told, whatever she needs to get there, whatever it takes to get to them 50. Again, they're not there yet.
But the work is both very real right now, and they're going to try and push this as soon as next week, Wolf.
BLITZER: Critical days, indeed.
Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
We're back with Senator Ben Cardin.
Senator, you think your Republican colleagues can come together this time, get 50 votes -- that's what they need -- and pass this bill?
CARDIN: On behalf of the tens of millions of people who will lose coverage and many million more that will lose quality coverage, I certainly hope that they don't bring this up.
We've been working the last two weeks, Democrats and Republicans, in order to improve the Affordable Care Act. That's what the American people want us to do. They want us to improve the act.
But what the Cassidy bill would do would significantly reduce coverage in this country. Tens of millions of people lose coverage. And, more tragically, the progress we have made against abuse of practices of insurance companies, these lifetime caps, annual caps, preexisting conditions, guaranteed coverage, certain benefits - all of that is under great risk under the Cassidy bill. So it's moving again in the wrong direction, and I just hope my colleges recognize that the American people want us to improve the Affordable Care Act. They don't want to lose the progress we've made.
BLITZER: Yes, the Graham-Cassidy Bill. Thanks very much, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland for joining us.
We've got more breaking news coming into the situation room. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: More now on President Trump's remarkable, very provocative first speech before the United Nations in language seldom heard at the UN. The president threatened to quote "totally destroy North Korea." Let's dig deeper with out specialist and analyst David Axlerod. What did you think?
DAVID AXLEROD, CNN SPECIALIST AND ANALYST: Well, look North Korea has been defining presidents for decades, and so there is a great deal of frustration. And they've been particularly provocative this year, so that needs to be noted. The question is whether getting into kind of a sophomoric type world taunts with an unstable leader who has nuclear weapons is the right way to go. And it's not really clear where all of this leads.
You know most people believe that any kind of military conflict ends in catastrophic amounts of damage and death. And so we need to pursue a diplomatic path. I'm not sure what he did today get us there. And, you know, Ben Cardin raised and interesting point about Iran which is that if we walk away from an agreement if there's no material evidence that it's been violated, what does that mean? What would that mean to the North Koreans in term of entering into any kind of negotiation for nonproliferation here?
And the one person who may be happy about this - I don't know - is Elton John whose song has now become a part of the whole debate. I've heard that on Google there's been record searches of his lyrics for Rocket Man. So it's revived an old golden.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's probably only going to be happy if that ends in a cha-ching for him.
AXLEROD: Yes, exactly.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, what'd you think of president's speech?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm burning out a fuse out here along. It's a lyric often misunderstood. I don't - as David said there are not a lot of good options here, but sometimes someone is going to have to negotiate with North Korea.
Theirs is a sense, certainly on the part of the Trump Administration, that negotiation is some sort of a reward. But when you have countries like Japan and South Korea that are at far greater risk then we are, they're going to want us at some point to talk to the North Koreans as we have talked to them in previous administrations. It's frustrating. It's difficult. It's - it may fail, but, you know, just calling Kim Jung-un more names doesn't seem like it's going to work either.
BLITZER: Yes, beyond of the era of strategic patience. Patience, he says, is over.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the era of strategic patience is over according to the president. I think a lot of people were focusing on what words - he would direct towards Kim Jung-un. I think he was being bombastic as many people would have expected.
I was really focused on what the leaders of Japan -- what the leaders of our other ally South Korea - what their reaction would be because of course they would be affected if there were any sort of preemptive strike from the US on North Korea. Also you notice the president once, I believe, mentioned Russia and
China by name thanking them for what they were doing at the United Nations' security council voting for tighter sanctions, but at the same time, while not mentioning their names, he did talk about the need for some countries to curtail their trade, and if they weren't doing their end of the bargain when it came to trade with North Korea. So again, I think there was a bit of a slap. I think there was more of a slap that he could've directed specifically to China and Russia.
BLITZER: The president also railed against the Iran nuclear deal and mincing no words.
BASH: No, not at all - saying it was an embarrassment. That is something that we heard from republicans that Donald Trump included from the minute that this deal went into effect. That they thought it was absolutely the wrong way to go. What is interesting is despite the fact that republicans ran on the notion of withdrawing from the Iran deal - when he first came into office at the January you heard a lot of people who were in his new administration saying, including Secretary of State saying, "we don't think it's a good deal, but it's too dangerous diplomatically to just pull out."
It does sound like he's going in a different direction now, and he is signaling that he might pull out. Look, if you're Benjamin Netanyahu, as you saw his reaction to that speech, you're thrilled. I mean this something that they have been, you know, pleading for and about since before this is even enacted. But if you're pretty much every other member of the world community, particularly those who signed on to this, you're saying "don't do this
because we're going to get into a situation with Iran that we're now in with North Korea.
BLITZER: Hold on a second. I just want David Axlerod to weigh in because President Obama warned the incoming president to, you know, don't back away from the steel (ph) unless the Iranians are totally violating it. As long as they're complying with it, you've got to stick with it.
AXLEROD: Well my concern about both of these things is I don't know what the next play is - where it all leads. The fear you always have with Donald Trump is that he's focused on how a line will play, how a story will play, and he's not thinking about the second, third, and fourth steps. There's great danger associated with pulling out of this agreement for a lot of different reasons, and there's great danger engaging in this brinksmanship with North Korea.
BLITZER: Let me get Bianna very quickly. Go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: I was just going to agree and follow up with what David had said earlier on about what kind of message is this sends in North Korea if in fact we do pull out of an agreement with Iran.
And on top of that, remember what's in just an agreement with the US and Iran it wasn't a bilateral agreement. It was a multilateral agreement. You've got Europe involved as well, so you could create a situation where you're angering some of out closest allies who will most likely continue to do business with Iran and thus leave the US behind.
AXLEROD: And they were very quick to respond.
BASH: And who's to say (ph) that we are understandably getting into the important details of the danger of North Korea, the potential danger of pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.
But if you take a step back it's also important to remember that we heard from this president the kind of speech that we haven't heard from him and the kind of world view that we haven't heard from him ever. And he really did give a much better sense of that kind of foreign policy that was not defined. It's not entirely defined, but it's very clear that he wants to be transactional. He wants everybody to try to stay in their lanes as much as possible. The whole notion of democracy, of American values, of human rights - barely even talked about. It was much more about possibilities (ph).
BLITZER: All right, hold on. Everybody hold on where there's a lot more coming up including a last ditch effort by senate republicans to repeal Obamacare. Even if their bill passes, what are its chances in the house?
[18:47:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's no room for error. Little time for waste as Senate Republicans scramble in the last ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. They're working under a very tight deadline. And tonight, it's far from certain whether they have the votes they need to pass the bill.
What do you think, Dana? Can they do it?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's close. It's close. I've been talking to people who are involved in trying to get the votes for the Republicans who tell me even at this hour, it's 50/50. And they're not just racing to get the votes. They're up against the clock, because if they can't get this passed by the Senate and the House by September 30th, it's not going to happen because of the procedural rules that allow them to pass it through the Senate by just 51 votes, that goes away at the end of the fiscal year, which is October 21st.
Look, this is something that Lindsey Graham and Senator Cassidy, who are the official cosponsors of it, as well as the former Senator Ric Santorum has been working on behind the scenes. And when this Obamacare traditional repeal effort died, they started quietly talking to the White House about it. But it really started gaining momentum recently. And it really took a lot of not just Democrats but Republicans by surprise that this is becoming more real.
BLITZER: Yes. The White House is on board.
Clearly, Bianna, do you think if they do manage to get 50 votes, Republicans in the Senate, plus the vice president will break the tie, it could then pass the House of Representatives?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the odds of that happening, Wolf, would have been higher in the spring if this has been laid then as opposed to running up against the clock right now. Look, this puts enormous pressure on state governor, many of them who would be taking massive hits with this deal and with it being to the states to decide what to do with the money.
A lot of senators are going to be talking to their governors. John McCain is going to be talking to his governors, exactly what he said over the weekend about this.
But, look, I think this speaks to a broader issue, because if in fact this can pass, Republicans will be emboldened. You will see the president distance himself from the sort of triangulation poll you've seen with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and maybe realign himself with Republicans on we can do this alone kind of strategy.
If in fact it doesn't work, I think we could expect him to even alienate himself from Republicans even more so and grow closer to any sort of bipartisan deal he can work with Democrats.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Can we talk a little bit about what this bill would actually do to human beings as opposed to the politics? How many million people will lose health insurance, how protections for people with pre-existing conditions will either disappear or not protect them from enormous increases in their premiums?
I mean, the medical organizations that follow these things, the American Medical Association, doctors groups, nurses groups, in many respects think this is worse for patients than the one that already lost in the Senate.
[18:50:05] So, I mean, I just think what actually is going to happen if this passes is perhaps the most significant thing.
BLITZER: You can see the graphic we put up on the screen.
David, among other things, the repeal's funding for Planned Parenthood. Go ahead.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. One of the features to your point about the House, one of the features of this particular bill is that it would shift moneys away from states that expanded Medicaid and shift that money to states that didn't. So, it would punish states like New York, California, Massachusetts.
You've got a lot of Republican congressmen in New York and California, for example, who are going to be very, very hard pressed to vote for a bill that would punish their states in this way. And the House will not be able to amend this bill. So that's an obstacle if they get past this obstacle.
BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, and also, you got the CBO score, which you may get a partial version of, but to Jeffrey's point, we're not going to hear about the numbers of people who may lose health care, which would be critical in scoring a bill like this.
BASH: You know, Jeffrey's point is right in terms of the federal law. There's no question that a lot of people who have insurance now, that will be different for them. But the Republican argument, the argument that they're making to every single Republican senator is, this is the truest form of conservatism, of Republican credo, which is federalism. Give the states, give the governors the right to decide how the health care is going to be --
AXELROD: If you're dying and you need health care, that's not a good prescription.
BASH: I'm telling you that this is -- you know --
GOLODRYGA: And you have Rand Paul disagreeing with that.
BLITZER: Paul opposes it as of right now as well.
Guys, just ahead, President Trump takes a personal jab at Kim Jong-un as the U.S. explores having North Korea kicked out of the United Nations.
[18:56:29] BLITZER: During his speech at the United Nations today, President Trump went out of his way to mock Kim Jong-un, referring to the North Korean leader as rocket man.
CNN's Brian Todd is watching for reaction from the North Koreans.
Brian, you're also learning about a new effort to potentially expel North Korea from the U.N.?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
One of President Trump's fellow Republicans, Senator Cory Gardner, is drawing the wrath of Kim Jong-un's regime because Gardner is not only trying to get North Korea kicked out of the U.N., he's also trying to get 21 countries to shut down their embassies in Pyongyang.
Now, between that effort and the president's blistering speech today at the United Nations, North Korea is feeling a lot of diplomatic pressure tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): President Trump promises to destroy North Korea if Kim Jong-un fires first. And the president takes a personal jab at his enemy.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself.
TODD: North Korea's representatives at the U.N. walked out before the president's speech.
Tonight, one of Mr. Trump's fellow Republicans is trying to get that North Korean delegation kicked out of the U.N.
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is leading the charge.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: What we have to do now is isolate this regime.
TODD: Senator Gardner's written letters to ambassadors of 21 countries which have embassies in North Korea, asking them to shut those embassies down and to sever ties with Pyongyang and he's urging them to support expelling North Korea from the U.N.
GARDNER: We have to make it clear, if he wants to be part of a global environment of leadership, then he needs to back away, drop the nuclear program, and then he can be welcomed once again.
TODD: Tonight, some foreign policy experts are slamming Senator Gardner's efforts.
VAL NASR, DEAN, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Most countries would construe this as sort of an amateurish act.
TODD: Vali Nasr, a former State Department official in the Obama administration, says kicking North Korea out of the U.N. would cut a vital communications channel. The same channel which led to the release of American student Otto Warmbier. And he says it would impact Kim's behavior.
NASR: More than likely, he will act even more erratically because there are no relationships out there that he would be preserving by acting better. And we will have even less knowledge of what's going on inside North Korea than we currently do.
TODD: But Senator Gardner says standard diplomatic steps have failed to prevent the young dictator from behaving dangerously.
GARDNER: To think what he's doing now isn't lashing out, that's just absurd. We see a guy who is now launching missiles over Japan.
TODD: At least two dozen countries have no diplomatic relations with North Korea, in the last four weeks, four countries have kicked out North Korea's ambassadors in response to the latest nuclear test -- Spain, Mexico, Peru, and Kuwait.
Senator Gardner stands by his proposal and dismisses critics who call it amateurish.
GARDNER: If it's amateur to say a guy who's not listening to the United Nations to knock it off, then perhaps they've got the wrong strategy at the United Nations.
TODD: So far, no one in the Trump duration has commented on Senator Gardner's campaign to isolate North Korea. North Korea's representatives at the U.N. didn't respond to us today, but the North Korean government has previously denounced Senator Gardner as, quote, a psychopath and human dirt for his criticism of the regime -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess that's how they feel about the United States senator.
All right. Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report. Brian Todd, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.