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Trump: 'I Have Decided' on Iran Nuclear Deal; 'Washington Post': Manafort Offered 'Private Briefings' to Russian Billionaire; GOP Seeking Votes in Last-Ditch Attempt to End ACA. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, destructive force. The center of Hurricane Maria is taking direct aim at the Dominican Republic right now after making a direct hit on Puerto Rico. We're getting new and clear views of the devastation. It's awful. Amid warnings the powerful storm left Puerto Rico 100 percent without power. Could it be heading for the United States next?

[17:00:45] Trapped. Also breaking, there's an urgent, painstaking search today for the survivors in the ruins of the school in Mexico City, just one of so many buildings that collapsed after a deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake. More than 225 people are dead as fears of aftershocks grow.

Closing in. Senate Republicans are racing to persuade a few holdouts to get behind a last-dish effort to repeal major parts of Obamacare before an end-of-the-month deadline. The Senate majority leader's pointing to a showdown vote next week. Could the health care law be rolled back after all?

And weighing in. Former president Barack Obama makes a rare public appearance, slamming Republicans for trying to undo his signature health care law. And joking that some voters didn't like him until he was gone.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour. The center of Hurricane Maria is back over open water where it could strengthen again after making a direct hit on the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Officials report the island is devastated and 100 percent without power right now. The hurricane is now heading for the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. We're standing by for an updated forecast.

Also breaking, the ongoing and very urgent search for survivors amid buildings collapsed by yesterday's magnitude-7.1 earthquake in Mexico. At least 225 people are dead. But there are stories of hope. In Mexico City right now, rescuers made contact with a little girl who's alive but trapped in the rubble of a collapsed elementary school.

We're also watching the last-minute scramble as Senate Republicans try to put together enough votes to finally undue Obamacare. A showdown vote is expected next week and will come down to a handful of undecided senators.

And in a rare public appearance today, former President Barack Obama said the latest repeal effort makes little sense, adding that it's frustrating for the law's supporters to have to mobilize every few months for another repeal fight.

We'll discuss all these developments and much more with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a prominent member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents, analysts, specialists all will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

But let's begin with Hurricane Maria's rampage through the Caribbean. CNN's Rafael Romo is in Puerto Rico for us right now.

Rafael, what are you seeing?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Much better weather conditions now, Wolf. But let me describe to you what we experienced this morning. It was as if we could see a cargo train approaching at full speed when the hurricane made landfall here, and you could hear the hurricane tossing all kinds of objects that were pummeling buildings around us. Objects like these pieces of metal.


ROMO (voice-over): Dangerous winds send a sheet of metal shooting down the street as Hurricane Maria mercilessly pummeled Puerto Rico, tearing down residents' offenses and knocking out power. A spokesman from the Puerto Rico governor's office says the entire island is 100 percent without electricity.

The most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in years made landfall this morning near the city of Yabucoa with wind speeds of 155 miles per hour, sending debris flying dangerously in the air, ripping up trees and tearing roofs off houses, battering two thirds of the island relentlessly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. Very high-pitched squealing sound. And it's coming through every crack in this building right now.

ROMO: The governor of Puerto Rico warning that, during the storm, people are on their own. Emergency crews cannot go outside in winds stronger than 50-miles-per-hour, leaving people to fend for themselves and take cover in stairwells or whenever they can.

[17:05:11] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Woman and children hiding in bathrooms and pantries. You're hearing all over through Puerto Rico and the other islands we took serious damage.

ROMO: Some shelters still housing evacuees from Irma are taking in more residents fearing Maria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most devastating storm in a century or, for quite frankly, in modern history. ROMO: At least 7 people have been killed on the island nation of

Dominica, and the deadly storm continues to churn, now threatening the Dominican Republic.


ROMO: Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (ph) has issued a mandatory curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. starting tonight and until Saturday morning.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Rafael, thank you. Rafael Romo, he's in Puerto Rico for us.

Even though the center of the storm is still out to sea, Hurricane Maria's winds and rains already are lashing Dominican Republic. Let's go to CNN's Polo Sandoval.

Polo, what parts of the country are most at risk.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, there are many people here, Wolf, in the Dominican Republic who had that last-minute desperate attempt to try to evacuate the area but instead had to turn around and come back to the hotel, because the airport was closed. There are many Americans I've already spoken to, at least here in Puerto Gata (ph) who say they will be hunkering down here. They're left with no choice but to ride out outer bands of the storm.

Meteorologist nots expecting a direct hit, but I can tell you the storm is about 75 miles off the coast, and boy, can you see Maria's presence there, the massive wicked waves that are off the coast here. That's really the reminder of the potential flooding threat that we expect later today as a high tide approaches.

Officials saying that, yes, the wind concern is something that they worry about here, potential wind damage, but what they are especially worried about is the potential for devastating flooding, Wolf. The Dominican Republic has seen plenty of rain the last couple of weeks, particularly with Irma, so the ground is definitely saturated.

So as we see, those outer bands sweep across regions here in the Dominican Republic, then that threat of flooding is there. And as a result, the entire northern coast of the Dominican Republic, as well as the eastern coast, are under red alert, which is basically the highest one that calls for mandatory evacuations for some of those low-lying areas. People here expecting a very long night ahead.

BLITZER: All right. Polo, good luck over there to all the folks in the Dominican Republic. We'll stay in close touch with you. Polo Sandoval on the scene.

Our meteorologist Tom Sater is tracking the hurricane and has the newly-updated forecast. So where is the storm heading now, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's making its way toward the Turks and Caicos, but good news, it's been downgraded now to a Category 42. Winds at 110 miles per hour, Wolf, the mountains of Puerto Rico having its way with this storm. Well, not until after, of course, Maria had its way with Puerto Rico.

Out of 22 weather observation sites, only one survived. Both radars on Puerto Rico were wiped out, as well.

At the midnight hour, a strong Category 5 with winds at 175 miles per hour. Did not think there was enough time for this to weaken, but thank goodness for the man upstairs.

Unfortunate, we had a lashing on the southern coast of St. Croix, underwent an eye wall replacement cycle, started to wobble somewhat, Vieques (ph) getting hit on coastline as well. And then a 615 landfall as a Category 4.

Now considering this is U.S. territory, that's the third Category 4 landfall for the U.S. this year. That's unprecedented. It never happened before. But now the mountains have had their way with this. They will still be kind of lashed with some heavy surf on the northern coast as well as Dominican Republic.

I believe this should stay away from the capital of Turks and Caicos. Of course, that's Cockburn Town. Looks like, for the most part, by 50 miles. So they're still going to see some high storm surge and strong winds.

But then we watch the movement north. And here's the latest from the National Hurricane Center. Does pick it back up to a Category 3 but no longer a 4 in the forecast. Doesn't mean that will happen in between this development.

But as we watch the points northward, definitely showing signs of getting into cooler water. That's a Category 1 on Monday. So, again, there is still some time to unfold.

The European model in blue, the U.S. in red, agree, taking it and keeping it pretty close to the Outer Banks. Now again, not a landfall at this point. And this would be on Wednesday evening.

So again, they continue their movement to the north, but the better news is several days away, the system getting into cooler water. That should help downgrade the system even further. But we know, of course, with Jose that's been out there spinning, we've had our fair share of not only some beach erosion but numerous flight delays and cancelations in the Northeastern Seaboard, as well.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays away from the U.S., of course. Tom Sater, we'll check back with you.

There's other breaking news we're following, including in Mexico, where rescue crews are trying desperately to find survivors in the ruins left by yesterday's magnitude-71.1 earthquake.

[17:10:04] Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Mexico City for us, where a main focus of attention right now is on a collapsed elementary school. Ed, what's the latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have to speak very quietly, because rescue crews are in the middle of that school, looking for people. And I think we can talk a little bit louder here now. But rescue crews are still trying to find what they believe is a young girl inside that building.

This is one collapsed school in a neighborhood where many of the other buildings are still left intact. It is a scene of great sadness.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Scenes of hope and heartache as a frantic search is under way for survivors of the devastating earthquake. More than 20 children are confirmed deed after the collapse of this elementary school in Mexico City. But many have been found alive, pulled from the rubble.

As the multi-story school building fell, it brought classrooms crashing onto other classrooms. Some are still missing as rescue crews pour through what's left, hoping to find more survivors. Authorities are calling for quiet as they listen for signs of life, raising their fists in the air as a command for silence.

The powerful 7.1-magnitude quake struck about 75 miles southeast of Mexico City in the middle of the day.

ADRIAN WILSON, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR (via phone): The buildings started to shake. And people started to run. People started to cry. Yell. Scream.

LAVANDERA: Onlookers in the street watched helplessly as the windows fall from this office building. And outside the city, overlooking the historic town of Taxco (ph). These panicked tourists run to safety during the moment of impact.

As the search-and-rescue mission continues, residents are cautioned to stay indoors and away from unstable structures, but many are flocking to the hardest hit areas to help the overstretched emergency crews.

As the second major quake to rock the area in as many weeks, Mexico City and much of the region lays crippled and President Enrique Pena Nieto is declaring a national emergency.

Shelters are packed. Makeshift hospitals. Schools are closed indefinitely. And millions are without power.


LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, thousands of people have answered the call, coming out in here to the streets of Mexico City to lend whatever support they can. Just a little while ago, I was actually inside the school grounds, watching the scene there unfold. And you can see rescue workers crawling through tunnels that they have been able to make inside the collapsed part of that building as they look and continue that search for what they believe is a young girl still trapped inside alive.

Whether or not this all comes to fruition is a scene and a moment here that many people here, as you can see around me, are anxiously awaiting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, let us know what happens. We'll get back to you as soon as we know, and let's hope for the best for that little girl, Ed Lavandera, in Mexico City.

Up next, Senate Republicans are trying to persuade a few remaining holdouts to join the latest push to repeal Obamacare. After all their failed attempts, does this last-ditch attempt have a real chance?


[17:18:10] BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, Republican leaders are pushing very hard to round up the last few votes they need to jam through a bill repealing key parts of Obamacare. There may be another showdown vote on the Senate floor sometime next week.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's up on Capitol Hill for us. Ryan, break down where the vote stands and which senators are the key swing votes.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Essentially, we are right back where we were about a month ago. And in this round of repeal and replace of Obamacare, it's the same group of about four senators who will make or break the chances of this bill passing.

We know that Senator Rand Paul is a no. Senator Susan Collins of Maine told us today that she's undecided but is certainly leaning in the "no" direction. That means Republicans request not afford to lose any more votes, and they are focusing on heavily on John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

To that effort, today senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, who are the coauthors of the legislation, took their show on the road, shopping their plan in a number of Senate offices today. They spent a bulk of their time of the office of Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska. They met there with Sullivan trying to pitch them that this plan is not only good for the United States but will specifically be good for the people of Alaska.

After that meeting Lindsey Graham emerged and seemed confident about the bill's chances. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And we're at a point where we're going to take the bill up next week. And to my Republican colleagues, if you've got a better idea, now is the time to come forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are taking the bill up next week?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. We're going to go to the floor with a repeal and replace proposal that is federalism.


NOBLES: Now, of course, Senator Lindsey Graham is not the senator that decides whether or not these bills get to the floor, but he did get somewhat support from the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell that said in a statement today that they have every intention of bringing, at who this bill to the floor.

But, Wolf, there's a big difference g having intention to to the floor, and actually scheduling it. Many believe that's not going to happen until they are sure they have 50 votes ready to go. The White House today hopeful that Lindsey Graham can convince his very good friend John McCain to get on board this this plan.

And they're also hopeful that this last-minute pitch to the pair of senators from Alaska will be enough to get this bill to the finish line. But Wolf, just like the last time around, we won't know anything until these votes are finally cast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Got to be cast by next week, September 30 is the deadline. Ryan Nobles, up on Capitol Hill. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers, they're plotting their own strategy to try to stop this latest Republic effort to end Obamacare. Let's get some perspective from Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

As you know, after next week, Republicans, Senator, will lose their shot to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority. It seems like it's coming down to the wire next week. So what can Democrats do? Are you planning any procedural steps, for example, to try to block this?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: We are preparing and planning to use every tool and tactic available to us, because we are on the precipice of one of the most cruel and outrageous legislative acts in recent history.

And what's missing here is the real voices and real faces that I've seen just over the last 24 hours here in Connecticut when I've met with cancer survivors, when I've talked on the floor of the United States Senate about a young man who suffers from muscular dystrophy and whose care would be threatened.

And the attempt to do, at the 11th hour, literally in the last seven days from this Friday, what they failed to do in the last seven years, this obsession with repeal and replace, it's a sequel to the horror movie we went through, a bad sequel, meaner and crueler. It would end Medicaid as we know it, deprive millions of people of health care, and raise premiums for almost everyone who depends on these programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

And so I think that these kinds of efforts have to be defeated. And we will resort to all the tools and tactics that we have available.

BLITZER: It's going to be a very, very close vote, by all accounts. Senator, I want you to stand by. We're also learning of a new report

from "The Washington Post" the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort -- Manafort offered an influential Russia billionaire what are described as private briefings on the 2016 campaign. We're following the breaking news, Senator. We'll discuss that and more right after this quick break.


[17:27:21] BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories on the Russia investigation. "The Washington Post" now reporting that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, offered private briefings to a Russian billionaire last summer. And "The New York Times" is reporting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has requested documents from the White House that suggest he's probing the president's actions while in office.

I want to ask Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee about both of those stories, and the senator is standing by, but first, let's go to CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's over at Trump Tower in New York City with more.

Jim, what's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we haven't gotten a response from the administration to those two stories, but we should point out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to give a briefing to reporters here in New York later on this evening. Look for Tillerson to be asked questions about those two breaking stories.

The president, obviously, would like to focus on other foreign policy challenges, like the Iran nuclear deal. Earlier today, he was again dropping hints that he may pull out of that agreement, a decision that would have major global consequences.



ACOSTA (voice-over): Listening to President Trump talk about the Iran nuclear deal, it sounds as if he's setting up another reality-TV-style cliff-hanger.

TRUMP: I haven't decided. I'll let you know. I'll let you know.

ACOSTA: All week long at the United Nations, the president has signaled he may be on the verge of scrapping the Obama administration agreement designed to pause Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Adding to the rising tensions, Iran's president condemned Mr. Trump's speech to the U.N.

HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): The ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations. ACOSTA: The president is offering no apologies for his U.N.


TRUMP: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

ACOSTA: ... despite the complaints from Democrats....

JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You have to ask yourself is America safer because of "Rocket Man"? Did we bring anybody to the table as a consequence of that language?

ACOSTA: ... including Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I thought it was very dark, dangerous. Not the kind of message that the leader of the greatest inflammation in the world should be delivering.

TRUMP: The depraved regime.

ACOSTA: Top Trump administration surrogates appear to be attempting to soften some of the president's tough talk. Take U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's caution on the Iran nuclear deal.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It's not a clear signal that he plans to withdraw. What it is, is a clear signal that he's not happy with the deal and that the United States is not safer because of it.

ACOSTA: Making a rare public appearance in New York, former President Barack Obama didn't mention his successor by name, but he seemed to call on the world to reject the divisive politics that launched Mr. Trump into power.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The rise of nationalism and xenophobia and a -- a politics that says it's not "we" but "us and them."

ACOSTA: Across town, the first lady were giving a speech about children being exposed to the dangers of bullying on, of all places, social media.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: We must turn our focus right now to the message and content they're exposed to on a daily basis through social media, the bullying, the experience online and in person.

ACOSTA: Critics wonder whether those pleas to stop bullying should be directed to the president, who just last night slammed the Emmy Awards, tweeting, "I was saddened to see how bad the ratings were on the Emmys last night, the worst ever. Smartest people of them all are the deplorables."

Perhaps the president wasn't a big fan of former press secretary, Sean Spicer's, latest spin at the podium.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now as for the prospect of the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Iranians are balking at the idea of crafting some sort of new proposal for curbing their nuclear program. Wolf, we should point out the president of Iran was telling reporters earlier today that it's just not realistic to think his country would enter into some kind of new round of negotiations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thank you. Jim Acosta in New York City.

Let's continue our conversation with Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.

Senator, what's your reaction to this new "Washington Post" report that just came out that the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, offered what were described as private briefings to a Russian billionaire aligned with the Kremlin?

BLUMENTHAL: Another potentially very important, certainly intriguing piece of a developing mosaic on Paul Manafort, on connections between the Trump campaign, which Manafort headed, and the Russians.

This oligarch is one that apparently Manafort had dealt with in the past. He was known to him. He's reaching out, according to this report, and trying to establish additional connections.

So it's evidence of entanglements and links between the Trump campaign and the Russian hierarchy at the highest level, including potentially Putin. And it's important also, because it is part of an investigation that concerns possible money-laundering charges against Manafort, a no-knock raid that was conducted after finding a probable cause that a crime was committed and that Manafort had a link to it. And of course, CNN's reports of wiretaps that could not have been done without, again, a finding of probable cause by a foreign intelligence surveillance court judge.

So all of it is extremely significant when it is put together.

BLITZER: This "Washington Post" report, by the way, says there's no evidence this Russian billionaire actually took up the Manafort offer. But was it appropriate to even make that kind of an offer to begin with?

BLUMENTHAL: In the total context of the events and circumstances, I would say no. It certainly raises strong suspensions of collaboration and collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians in their meddling in the election.

And, remember that it took place just less than a month after the June 6th or 9th meeting. This communication was on July 6, I believe, as reported. And we're putting together events, the meeting between Manafort and Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. with potential foreign agents of the foreign government. This communication may be seen as a follow-up. And again, there is no evidence yet about whether or not Deripaska actually received the email, but the fact it was sent indicates continuing intent or objective in establishing relationships and possible collusion. BLITZER: And "The New York Times" is now reporting that the special

counsel, Robert Mueller, is seeking White House documents on the firings of the FBI director, James Comey; the national security adviser, General Michael Flynn; along with documents from President Trump's meeting with the Russians in which the president reportedly explained his reasoning for Comey's firing. So what does that tell you, Senator?

BLUMENTHAL: What it tells me is that the president is saying to the top hierarchy of the Russian government, including the foreign minister, after firing Comey, that he was relieved, because he was so concerned about the "Russia thing," as he has called it, is additional evidence to be considered by Mueller of obstruction of justice. It's really that serious.

And potential obstruction of justice is a very serious federal crime under investigation by the special counsel. And now the special counsel is focusing on the White House, not yet with subpoenas, but apparently seeking interviews and documents from the White House that may reflect Russian meddling in the election, but also Trump collusion with that meddling through the campaign, and possible obstruction by the White House afterwards in the firing of Comey.

BLITZER: And very -- very quickly, Senator, do you want Manafort to testify before your Judiciary Committee?

BLUMENTHAL: Manafort must testify before the Judiciary Committee. He is among the witnesses who should be compelled to testify by subpoena, if necessary, including Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. He should be testifying under oath in public so the American people can hear what he has to say.

BLITZER: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

TRUMP: Coming up, we'll have the latest on Hurricane Maria. After devastating Puerto Rico, the storm is setting its sights on the Dominican Republic, and possibly -- possibly -- the East Coast of the United States.

Plus, a close look inside North Korea's provocative weapons testing. Is President Trump's tough speech only strengthening Kim Jong-un's resolve?


[17:40:44] BLITZER: We're following breaking news: devastation in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria wipes out electricity across the entire island, possibly for months. The storm poses a major threat to the Caribbean and forecast models suggest the East Coast of the United States might be a target, as well. We're going to stay on top of this story here on CNN throughout the night.

But first there are major developments unfolding here in Washington, where Republicans may be on the cusp of repealing key parts of Obamacare. Let's bring in our political experts and specialists. I want to welcome Dr. Zeke Emanuel, our newest CNN contributor...


BLITZER: ... one of the main architects of Obamacare. So how do you see this legislation that is very close right now to passing in the Senate?

EMANUEL: Well, it would be a disaster for the American health care system. In the first few years, 15 to 18 million people would lose coverage and by 2026, 2027, it's estimated it could be as many as 32 million people.

BLITZER: How do you know that if the Congressional Budget Office hasn't even, what they say, scored all those kind of things?

EMANUEL: There are other people who have models of this. And previously, the CBO scored a bill similar to this -- this is actually worse than the previous Republican bills -- and came out with at least 32 million people being thrown off coverage. Because we lose people who got coverage through Medicare expansion, Medicaid -- I mean the ACA exchanges, but also, they're going to cut back on Medicaid, so a lot of people are going to lose coverage there. And employers are going to begin cutting back because of the rising costs created.

BLITZER: Very sensitive issue, pre-existing conditions. What does this proposed legislation do as far as people who are suffering from cancer or other pre-existing conditions?

EMANUEL: So basically, it says, "States, you can repeal the prohibition on not selling to people with pre-existing conditions and raising the rates for them." It says that you can repeal it, and it's estimated that half of the American population will be exposed to states where the law doesn't require that they do that.

BLITZER: And your analysis shows, as far as premiums are concerned, what?

EMANUEL: Well, premiums will initially go down, but then ultimately, are going to go up. Because you're going to have just fewer insured people, a lot more uninsured people having to go to get care at hospitals. And that cost is going to be transported to people who have private insurance.

And so it's a disastrous situation. And if you're buying individual insurance like 15 million Americans, you can see the premiums skyrocket in those markets. The individual market is going to go haywire here. If they think Obamacare was bad, just wait until this bill passes.

There's nothing really good in this bill. I mean, one gets a sense that the Republicans just want to pass anything, and they're not even examining the details or its impact on the American population.

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans disagree with you on that.

But David Chalian, if the -- if there's no full Congressional Budget Office report, a score, as they say, they don't -- they don't come up with a number of how many people would lose insurance, Republicans still want to go ahead and vote for this. And they say the alternative is Obamacare, which they argue is worse.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. There is apparently going to be some partial analysis, I think, we expect on Monday from the Congressional Budget Office. And why the Congressional Budget Office is so important to these political debates is because it's sort of a non-partisan arbiter of legislation. And so both sides, while they try to spin the numbers, understand to a degree, basically to what the CBO reports. That's why the score gets so much attention, Wolf.

But, yes, I think the Republicans are clearly poised to proceed with that. I don't think that's going to stop them, despite the fact that some of the critical Republican votes have said they're very queasy about that and really wish they could see a full score, that that would help them make up their minds.

BLITZER: Nia, you've been taking a close look at the Republicans. There's maybe 46, 47, 48 Republicans who seem to be on board. You need 50.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think we're looking at the same people we were looking at before in terms of the people who are on the fence. We're not sure what they're going to do Lisa Murkowski, Alaska. There's -- we already know what Rand Paul was going to do. John McCain, who was one of the decisive voters. And also Susan Collins.

They have different reasons as to why they have complaints about this, why they still might have complaints about this. The White House hoping that the friendship between Lindsey Graham and John McCain might make a difference.

But John McCain's sort of problems with this always had to do with he felt like it was rushed. He felt like it wasn't bipartisan. He felt like it wasn't going through the proper Senate procedures. So that -- all those things are essentially still in place, so we'll see if he changes his mind.

And I've talking to people who were sort of, you know, behind the scenes negotiating with this. They've obviously been talking to Lisa Murkowski, and one of the things one of the people told me was, basically, the idea is offer Alaska anything they want to get Lisa Murkowski on board. The question about that is you offer Lisa Murkowski anything she wants...


[17:45:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: -- negotiating with this.

They've obviously been talking to Lisa Murkowski. And one of the things one of the people told me was, basically, the idea is offer Alaska anything they want to get Lisa Murkowski on board.

The question about that, if you offer Lisa Murkowski anything she wants, then who else is going to raise their hands and say, what about me?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Can they do that? Can they buy off, if you will, some wavering senators?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is Washington. You can buy off anyone.

You know, in some ways, that might enable them to get Lisa Murkowski's vote.

Although there is push back, you know, from Republican and Democratic governors, 10 of them right now, Wolf, who have written a letter to Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer and had said, listen, we prefer that you go down this bipartisan road, this bill that was being worked on by Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and by Patty Murray, a Democrat. However, those negotiations collapsed last night.

The question is does Lisa Murkowski get cover from having her governor, an independent, write a letter to the leadership and say, please do not pass this bill?


BLITZER: As someone, Zeke, really -- you really hate this proposed legislation. As I've told our viewers, you were one of the architects of ObamaCare.


BLITZER: What do you think is going to happen?

EMANUEL: I think it's not going to pass in the end. And let's just point out that Arizona, Alaska, and Maine all lose money as a result of this bill. And by 2027, every state is going to have a big cut.

I mean, this cuts $500 billion out of money going to the states over the next 10 years. That is not a nice prospect. And by the way, after 2027, right, there's no money for Medicaid expansion or ACA expansion, which means states are going to have to pull back or they're going to have to spend more money out of their own coffers.

This is a terrible deal for everyone except for a few states, like Texas, which didn't expand Medicaid. Those states that didn't expand Medicaid, they get a big bump from this bill. Those states that did expand Medicaid and give people insurance, they're going to see huge cutbacks on this bill and really be hurt by it.

BLITZER: A very consequential vote coming up next week, the deadline, September 30th.

All right, guys, stand by. There's more news we're following. Some experts worry that North Korea might use President Trump's tough speech at the United Nations as an excuse to test more missiles and nuclear weapons. So how far will Kim Jong-un go?


[17:51:53] BLITZER: As Kim Jong-un rapidly expands his weapons program, experts worry that North Korea could be racing toward its ultimate goal: a nuclear warhead capable of striking the continental United States. Our Brian Todd is standing by with more information.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information on just how close Kim Jong-un likely he is to having that capability. We're hearing of one crucial test the North Korean dictator has not yet conducted that would really alarm U.S. officials.

This comes as the White House lays down markers to try to prevent Kim from making those dangerous moves.


TODD (voice-over): North Korea's aggressive young leader has, again, been put on notice by President Trump. If Kim Jong-un fires the first lethal shot against the U.S., South Korea, or Japan --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, some analysts are concerned that that statement might strengthen Kim's resolve, leading him to test more missiles and nuclear bombs. Others say despite that risk, the President has now put down some markers to Kim about the risks he's taking.

PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE ASIA-PACIFIC SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Will he likely launch more missiles? Yes, but he was going to launch more missiles anyhow. I think Kim is not going to settle for any type of negotiation before he can demonstrate the ability to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, there are new warnings of how close Kim Jong-un is to having that capability. Experts say last Friday's test may have been the first time North Korea launched an intermediate range missile from a mobile launcher. Why does that matter?

THOMAS KARAKO, DIRECTOR OF THE MISSILE DEFENSE PROJECT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: That means that they can launch it faster, and so it's going to be harder to pre-empt.

TODD (voice-over): But it's not just the ability to launch quickly. U.S. officials believe North Korea has already reached other milestones to becoming a nuclear threat, including building what's believed to be a hydrogen bomb, testing long-range missiles that can reach the continental United States, developing advanced engines and fuels, miniaturized warheads and submarine launch missiles. Experts say only a few steps remain for North Korea to be able to hit

the U.S. with a nuclear bomb, like developing the guidance system for missiles to strike a target and building a missile nose cone that can protect the warhead from the burning heat of re-entering the atmosphere.

Experts now warn, there is one red line Kim hasn't yet crossed that would make U.S. military and intelligence officials truly alarmed.

KARAKO: If North Korea were to put an actual nuclear weapon on a missile, fire it out into the Pacific Ocean somewhere, and actually detonate it, at that point, you are looking at a smoking gun. And they have kind of demonstrated the full all-up capability, end to end. And there's that point, there's really no denying it.


TODD: And at that point, sources say the U.S. might be forced to take more aggressive military action of its own, like shooting down one of North Korea's missiles while it's being tested or launching a possible cyber attack or an electromagnetic pulse strike that would disable North Korea's command and control. All designed to send a clear message to Kim Jong-un that he cannot go any further. The question then becomes, Wolf, is he going to respect that message?

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Good question. We'll stay on top of the story.

Coming up, the updated forecast for Hurricane Maria. It's weaker after making a direct hit on Puerto Rico, but will it strengthen again and could it pose a threat to the mainland U.S.?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Powerless. Hurricane Maria pounds Puerto Rico leaving the entire island and its 3-1/2 million American citizens without electricity. Tonight, a flood emergency is unfolding, and a government spokesman warns some things on the island will never be the same.

[18:00:00] Struggle to survive. A desperate search in Mexico City for people possibly buried alive in the rubble of buildings that collapsed due to powerful earthquake. Tonight, the death toll is climbing while aftershocks claim even more lives.