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Maria Devastates Puerto Rico, "100 Percent Without Power"; Jimmy Kimmel to Senator Cassidy: He Lied to Me. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 16:30   ET



[16:32:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Two monster hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaging the Caribbean within a matter of weeks. This corner of the world now devastated. Dominica took the full force of Maria, at least 15 people have been killed. Those left are in survival mode, desperate for food, water, and medical supplies.

For the first time in 300 years, no one is living on the entire island of Barbuda after Irma's eye directly slammed into that island. The Netherlands deployed additional troops to contain what the government described as serious post-storm looting on St. Maarten.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, there's a 24 hour curfew as crews try to clean up and get much needed supplies to residents. And in St. Croix, homes have been destroyed, vital communication lines knocked out, many still waiting to hear from loved ones they cannot reach.

And, of course, the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, home to more than 3 million Americans, all without power, absolutely obliterated, President Trump says. And that's just some of the many islands in the Caribbean, crippled as Maria continues her path.

Joining me now is Carlos Mercader. He is the Washington based spokesman for Puerto Rico's governor.

Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

And the danger not over for Puerto Rico even though the storm has moved on with a lack of power there. What's the most immediate need?

CARLOS MERCADER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PUERTO RICO FEDERAL AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATION: Right now, definitely that would be restoration of the communication on the island. Right now, we're working with FEMA in the PRIMA -- what we call prima, which is the emergency agency in Puerto Rico, to reestablish down there in that location satellite so that we can start bringing back communications. There's a lot of relatives here in the mainland that want to call -- their relatives want to know if they're well or not. And that's one of our main priorities right now.

And also, obviously, energy -- electricity. Right now, we have 100 percent of the island without electricity. Hospitals that are being operated with generators and other buildings that basically depend on generators. That's why we're also asking for more generators because we -- we know that the infrastructure was hit so bad with the winds and the flooding that to restore that kind of infrastructure is going to take a long time. So, in the meantime, we need generators to operate.

BERMAN: Sure. You say it's going to take a long time. And the state-owned power grid, the governors described it as old and weak. Any sense how long it may take before any of it is up and running again?

MERCADER: Well, any of it, I want to say that the experts -- they have been saying they will take about two to six months to restore that infrastructure. But the reality is that the recuperation, the recovery process is going -- experts say it's going to take about 10 years in Puerto Rico, because of the devastation.

[16:35:09] One point, I would like to highlight is that the images that we're looking at, most of them are in the northeastern part of the island. The reality is that the hurricane covered the whole island and we have not seen images from the central part, from the western part of the island, the western part of the island, that area in which the hurricane basically left off Puerto Rico, those areas are devastated. They are devastated.

BERMAN: Quickly, if we can, what help do you want from the federal government?

MERCADER: Well, I would like to say -- I would like to thank the administration. The president, Donald Trump, Tom Bossert, his advisor in homeland security issues, Brock Long, the FEMA director, they've been in constant communication with the governor, but we are going to need federal funding to rebuild the island.

And we're asking Congress to basically support the efforts and support Puerto Rico in this time.

BERMAN: Well, the country is behind you in Puerto Rico.

Carlos Mercader, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

MERCADER: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. No laughing matter. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel says the new Republican health care bill does not cover preexisting conditions, but one of the authors of the bill, and the president say it does. So which is it? We take a deeper dive, next.


[16:40:55] BERMAN: Welcome back to the politics lead.

I want to dig into the Republican health care bill Senate Republicans are pushing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to set a vote for next week. But Republicans are facing pushback on the bill's substance. Comedian Jimmy Kimmel, one of the loudest critics, he's not letting up

on accusing the bill's sponsor, Republican Bill Cassidy, of lying about protections for those with preexisting conditions or the bill's potential to get more people health insurance. So, who's right?

CNN's Phil Mattingly is looking at the fine print.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Senate (INAUDIBLE) toward a vote to repeal Obamacare, President Trump is unequivocal, tweeting: I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of preexisting conditions. It does.

Senator Bill Cassidy, the bill's co-sponsor, also toeing the line.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller- Johnson, more people will have coverage, and we protect those with preexisting conditions.

MATTINGLY: Trump's defensiveness over the issue is understandable. The issue of whether the GOP proposal maintains protections for all has been a central and toxic piece of the repeal debate for months, and one that has been magnified exponentially by, of all people, late night talk show host on a two-night attack.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: So, last night on our show, a senator from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, I took him to task for promising to my face that he would oppose any health care plan that allowed insurance companies to turn people with preexisting conditions away, and he said anything he supported would have to pass what he named, the Jimmy Kimmel test, which was fine. It was good, but unfortunately, puzzlingly, he proposed a bill that would allow states to do all the things he would not let them do.

MATTINGLY: Jimmy Kimmel is joined by insurers, outside advocacy groups and even Republican Senator Susan Collins in raising those concerns, with good reason. At the core of Obamacare's regulatory structure was a mandate that insurers could not turn away anyone with preexisting conditions. Under the new bill, that protection does remain, but here's where things diverge: the GOP plan allows states to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations, including one that ensures insurers won't raise prices with those on health issues.

The rationale: states need flexibility to innovate and the regulation has led to younger, healthier people paying more. In place of that scrapped regulation, a state would simply have to ensure that they would provide, quote, adequate and affordable coverage. But those terms aren't defined, and that ambiguity has led analysts and insurers to conclude that in some states, protections would almost certainly be cut back.

So, while Cassidy fires back at Kimmel --

CASSIDY: Yes. So, Jimmy doesn't understand, and not because he's a talk show host, because we've never spoken. He's only heard from those on the left who are doing their best to preserve Obamacare.

MATTINGLY: The bill itself does open the door to changes at the state level, and in doing so, puts an end to Obamacare's guarantee.


MATTINGLY: And, John, as we dig in to these issues, obviously, we're working on a very, very tight timetable here. By the end of next week, that's what the Senate has to have this done, if they want to pass it by a simple majority. The policy matters deeply, and it's not just here in the Senate, as we try and figure out if Senator John McCain, Senator Lisa Murkowski are going to end up supporting this.

It's also in the House. The House, John, will not have any opportunity to amend this. They also have had issues on preexisting conditions. And when you look at how this bill functions right now, taking away the subsidies of Obamacare and even past Republican proposals, turning them into block grants, you have states like New York and California that would lose a lot of money. Well, in the House, unlike the Senate, there are a lot of Republican members from those states. A lot of things to keep a close eye on as this moves forward, John.

BERMAN: Yes. You look at the list of Republicans in New York right now, those are votes that will be hard to get under the new bill.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Be sure to tune in to CNN Monday night for a very special live town hall debate. Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar debate Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy on health care, and they will take questions from the audience on the Graham-Cassidy bill. This is an important discussion.

Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, they will moderate. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday only on CNN. But let's not wait until Monday, let's debate this now. I want to bring in my political panel, Scott, Kennedy is here, Adrienne Elrod. Scott, I want to start with you. I want to read you what Senator Chuck Grassley said about this bill. You know, I can maybe give you 10 reason why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill. When I first read that, I'm like, does he know he's using his outside voice? You know, when he says that, he's basically admitting he doesn't like the bill but there are political reasons to vote for it.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there are policies and political reasons to vote for it. It repeals the individual and corporate mandate and it restores the principal of federalism which a lot of conservatives do care about, getting more power to the state. I've talked to some people in the White House this week, they're cautiously optimistic. They think that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good here in meeting the deadline of September 30th to get this out of the Senate and back over to the House. It's important to remember, whatever passes here, if it passes, still has to be reconciled and passed out of the House and we're a long way from that.

BERMAN: It can't be amended though, in the House, that's the problem.

JENNINGS: Well, but it has to go back over there for approval. And so -- and so, this doesn't become law the next day. I mean, there has to be a vote in the House and more debate. So I -- look, I think the Congress works better when there are deadlines. There's a deadline on this, and I do think there's always a good reason to keep your campaign promises.

BERMAN: So Adrienne, insurance companies have come out against this bill hard today, something that Democrats have touted. I'm old enough to remember. When insurance companies -- when the boogie man for all Democrats now, all the sudden now they're going to say, listen to the insurance companies.

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS FOR HILLARY FOR AMERICA DIRECTOR: Yes, well look, I mean, first of all, let's look at the fact here. The reason why there is this September 30th deadline is because Republicans want to ram this through without any Democratic support. They have the September 30th deadline to pass it into reconciliation which means they can pass it with a simple majority of the Senate. So that in itself in my view is very controversial because we do need Democrats. If we're actually going to have a successful change on health care, we need bipartisan support.

Secondly, insurance companies are coming out on this because they know that this is controversial. They know that there's a lot of issues with the legislation itself. Jimmy Kimmel coming out, first of all, I applaud him for being so direct on this. He's raising the issue beyond the Washington Beltway, beyond people who are just you know, following politics to a much broader audience and raising awareness of why in bill is so controversial especially, he's talking about the lifetime caps. So, again, the fact that we are looking at passing this -- Republicans to want pass this under reconciliation without Democratic support, is ludicrous.

BERMAN: There's no disagreement with Scott on the fact that they want to pass it under reconciliation, and they have to pass it under reconciliation or it won't get through. I want to ask you about Phil Mattingly's piece right there, the argument about preexisting conditions. Under the bill, people will still have to be covered, but it's just factual that the protections on the pricing. People with preexisting condition, states will be able to get out of what's called the community rating. They will be able to charge people with preexisting conditions more.

JENNINGS: It doesn't mean they will. This power goes --

BERMAN: But they could. The fact is -- the fact is, and this is where Senator Cassidy isn't being as wholesome as he could be in his explanation. The fact is, the protection exists right now. People with pre-existing conditions can only be charged the same right as other people. That will no longer exist.

JENNINGS: At the federal level, but at the state level, the governors and the state legislatures can choose to keep those protections and my suspicion is, many, most, maybe all of them will do that. The issue here is do you want to be closer to your health care? And the good argument for this bill is when the federal bureaucrats are making the decisions, you're a long way away from being close to your health care choices at the policy level. When the decisions are being made by governors and state legislatures, the policymakers in charge of your health care are a whole lot closer to your neighborhood. And so, I actually think people would get better outcomes if they were closer to the state legislators and the governors who were in power to make decisions.

BERMAN: But they will lose the guarantee. They simply will lose that federal guarantee on the rates right now. I want to shift (INAUDIBLE) off of health care if I can Adrianne right now on Valerie Plame. Happy new year by the way, if you're celebrating Valerie Plame, former CIA Operative, linked to an article on Twitter today titled, I want to read this, America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars. Now Valerie Plame, well-known of course over the years for various things, but she was very critical of President Trump on a number of issues including from emboldening white supremacists here. She later sort of apologized, said she hadn't read the full article, but her past tweets not on her side here, and this article is fairly repugnant and (INAUDIBLE) anti-semitic.

ELROD: She apologized on Twitter. I think she made it very clear that she regrets tweeting that article. And by the way, this is a lesson for all of us who are active on social media, you've got sometimes read below the first two sentences of anything that you're tweeting before you decide to even agree with that.

BERMAN: Yes, it's a tough lesson to learn. And one wonders again if you look at her past tweets and what exactly her intention was or thinking is on that. Scott, I want to ask you about the President's poll numbers right now. We did note they're at a whopping 40 percent which is not that high. It's high for him and one of the reasons it may have gone up is because of his response to the Hurricane. Whether or not he did a good job there, I think, one of the lessons might be is that the President let's other news take over for a few weeks. When the new isn't on the President, maybe he's better off.

[16:50:19] JENNINGS: Well, when you have a crisis situation, foreign policy, domestic disaster like a hurricane, it does give the office of the presidency and the person who holds it the chance to exhibit real leadership skills. I also think it highlights here that personnel is policy. He has a highly qualified, FEMA Director that he appointed and was confirmed in place to handle these situations. And so I'm not surprised that vast majority of Americans think he's handling it well.

BERMAN: That well. Not a vast majority at approval rating --

JENNINGS: 60 something.

BERMAN: Yes, this is a vast majority. His approval rating is 40 percent. Adriane Elrod, Scott Jennings, great to see you, thanks for being here. I appreciate it. All right, they are a group of green berets who infiltrated Afghanistan toppled the Taliban and began the hunt for Osama bin Laden. A new CNN film, a great film takes a look at that inside story. We have a sneak peek next.


[16:55:00] BERMAN: The Pentagon getting ready to send an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, but at the beginning of America's longest war, as the wreckage of the Twin Tower still smoldered, a handful of U.S. Special Forces soldiers went to Afghanistan, fighting alongside local forces to topple the Taliban regime within weeks. Now in a new CNN documentary for the first time, we're hearing the personal stories of these American heroes. Here's CNN's Barbara Star. Barbara.

BARBARA STAR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, 16 years after the 9/11 attacks, an extraordinary look at some of the special operations forces who led the way in the opening days of the war on terror.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

STARR: Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush publicly went to war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is foreign Taliban.

STARR: But a secret war was already underway. In the documentary, Legion Of Brothers, CNN presents for the first time the personal stories of Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan that led the way to bring down the Taliban that sheltered Osama bin Laden.

PETER BERGEN, LEGION OF WAR PRODUCER: Any (INAUDIBLE) about war, it's about heroism and about sacrifice and loss. It's not a pro-war film, it's not an anti-war film, it's a film about actually what happens in war.

STARR: It would turn into America's longest war. 16 years of fighting, dying, and the anguish of those who survived and the families left behind by the fallen.

MARK NUTSCH, UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICER: It's a stream of combat environment as you can fathom. It tested you in every way, physically, mentally, emotionally.

STARR: Then Captain Mark Nutsch led a team into the mountains of Northern Afghanistan in the Fall of 2001. Team 595 rode horseback with thousands of local fighters to begin the liberation of the country. Another team in the south led by then Captain Jason Amerine. On December 5, 2001, in a friendly fire incident, every member Amerine's team was either killed or wounded when an American bomber inadvertently dropped a bomb on their position. Master Sergeant J.D. Davis would become the first U.S. soldier killed after 9/11.

MIKYONG DAVIS, SGT. J.D. DAVIS WIDOW: This is a first letter I received from him. Hello, sweetheart, today's the 31st of October. This has been hardest trip for me. I really didn't want to go, but I just didn't want to leave you and the kids.

STARR: Families and wives carrying on.

AMY NUTSCH, CAPT. MARK NUTSCH WIFE: While they're doing what they do, you do what you have to do. And that's just the way we are. That's the way this group of ladies are.

JASON AMERINE, UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICER: The notion of fighting from a distance, of fighting with these air strikes, it didn't sit well with me. I mean, it, it almost promoted that just the promiscuous use of military power. I don't know -- I don't know how to explain it. It's just -- I mean, we would have died otherwise. There was no alternative.

STARR: The film bringing survivors back together, still struggling with life after war.

SCOTT NEIL, UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICER: Each one of our stories are almost similar. We isolated ourselves, our family, everything else. Started reaching out and found, you know, the only way we're all going to heal each other is to get back together.


STARR: Even as some of these troops who were the first into Afghanistan still struggle with their memories, the Trump administration is sending another 3,000 troops into a war that does not appear to have a quick end. John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara, thanks so much. The CNN film Legion Of Brothers is about an elite team of U.S. Special Forces deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11 premiers Sunday at 9:00 p.m., only on CNN.

That is all for "THE LEAD," I'm John Berman, I turn you over to Jim Acosta now in "THE SITUATION ROOM."