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Interview With Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy; North Korea: Trump Declared War; Republican Efforts to Target Health Care Fail?; Trump vs. NFL; White House: Response to Puerto Rico "Anything But Slow". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: His call, a call for firing those who kneel during the national anthem, is spurring shows of solidarity and criticism of his remarks. Has the president launched a culture war?

Road to war? North Korea accuses President Trump of declaring war and says it now has the right to shoot down U.S. planes anywhere. The White House calls the claim absurd,while President Trump hurls insults at Kim Jong-un. How will the dictator respond?

Bracing for failure. Protests disrupt the one and only hearing on Senate Republicans' health care plan. Their latest effort to repeal Obamacare is in serious danger of complete collapse, while the bill's backers are desperately and urgently trying to get the votes they need. Tonight, we just received a new report on the plan's impact, how many people might lose their coverage.

And wiped off the map. Hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico is facing an increasingly desperate crises, with officials pleading for more help from the federal government. The White House says the response is "anything but slow," but some Democrats say the island's more than three million American citizens aren't getting the same attention as hurricane victims in Texas and Florida.

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: We're following the breaking news, including a very strong White House defense of President Trump as he faces growing backlash from NFL players and owners for his attacks on athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

The president's call for them to be fired appears to have backfired and fueled a wave of players kneeling and locking arms in a show of solidarity. Critics accuse the president of waging a culture war, but the White House insists, and I'm quoting now, "The president is not talking about race."

The White House is also refuting a claim by North Korea that the U.S. has declared war on the Kim regime. The country's foreign minister cites President Trump's tweet saying North Korea -- quote -- "won't be around much longer," and he says Mr. Trump's threat gives North Korea the right to shoot down U.S. bombers in international airspace.

Also, we're just getting a new report estimating the impact of the Senate Republican health care bill, showing millions may lose their health insurance. Today, protesters disrupted the lone hearing on the measure, which is one vote away from failure, despite changes designed to try to win over specific senators.

A deadline is hovering over the latest effort to repeal Obamacare. After this week, it will need even more votes to pass under Senate rules.

And the governor of Puerto Rico is pleading for a stepped-up response to the hurricane disaster that's devastated the U.S. territory. He warns of a humanitarian crisis facing the island's more than three million residents. They are U.S. citizens. We're going to get a live update from Puerto Rico this hour.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Chris Murphy of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the former head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, the latest on the feud between President Trump and the NFL sparked by his attack on athletes who kneel for the national anthem.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the White House says it's about honoring the flag.


They are locking arms publicly over here at the White House. The White House is not backing away from the president's controversial comments from over the weekend that seem to be directed at African- American athletes. The president claims his remarks are not racist, but the president's record on race is making that difficult for a lot of Americans to believe.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Critics threw penalty flag immediately for unstatesmanlike conduct.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired.


TRUMP: He's fired! He's fired!

ACOSTA: But President Trump claims the firestorm he ignited when he slammed NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem was not motivation by race. TRUMP: This has nothing to do with race. I have never said anything

about race. This has nothing to do with race or anything else. This has to do with respect for our country and respect for our flag.

ACOSTA: But this morning, the president found time to praise NASCAR fans, tweeting: "So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our country or our flag. They said it loud and clear."

Nothing to see here, insists the White House.

(on camera): Is he trying to wage something of a culture war?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not at all. The president's not talking about race. The president's talking about pride in our country.


What you saw yesterday were players and fans of all races joining together as Americans to honor our service members. That's what the president's talking about. That's what his focus is on.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One GOP adviser to the White House told CNN the president was in fact waging a cultural war, trolling today's pro athletes as if they were Hillary Clinton.


ACOSTA: Among his targets, NBA star Steph Curry. "Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Steph Curry is hesitating. Therefore, invitation is withdrawn."

The president's comments provoked a reaction on the field and off. NBA star LeBron James tweeted "You bum" to the president.

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: He doesn't understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement.

ACOSTA: This isn't the first time the president has gone after athletes for kneeling in protest. He did it during the campaign, singling out quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

TRUMP: Number one is this politics, they're finding, is a much rougher game than football and more exciting. And, honestly, we have taken a lot of people away from the NFL. And the other reason is Kaepernick, Kaepernick.


ACOSTA: It's also not the first time the president has been accused of dividing America over the subject of race. From Charlottesville.

TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people...

ACOSTA (on camera): No, sir, the Nazis -- there are no fine people in the Nazis.

(voice-over): To questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S.

TRUMP: They make these birthers into the worst idiots. Why doesn't he show his birth certificate?

ACOSTA: With parts of the U.S. reeling from natural disasters and the U.S. staring down North Korea, the White House insists the president has his priorities in order.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Really doesn't take that long to type out 140 characters. And this president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day.


ACOSTA: Now, an associate of president told me that Mr. Trump often talks about his plans for controversial comments beforehand, even batting them around with aides. Often, this associate says, his aides will try to steer him away from making these kinds of controversial remarks, but that the president goes with his gut and delivers them anyway.

And, Wolf, I talked to another adviser who put it to me this way. This wasn't the president waging a cultural war. It's the president winning one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much for that report.

We're getting a new estimate now from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the impact of the pending Senate Republican health care bill.

I want to quickly go to our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. He's following the breaking news for us on Capitol Hill.

Just got the report. You have got the report, the Congressional Budget Office report. It says, what, millions of Americans will likely lose their health insurance if this legislation were enacted into law. Is that right?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Based on the Graham-Cassidy bill legislation the U.S. Senate is considering, millions fewer over the course of years would have insurance coverage than currently do under law.

Now, there's a big question here. There's no specific numbers, Wolf. You remember quite well we often talk about very specific numbers from the CBO. This only has millions fewer because it is a preliminary report because the CBO made very clear it would take several weeks for them to actually be able to analyze this bill. Remember the compressed timetable that they're working under. Now,

also a key point, the CBO confirms that it does meet deficit reduction targets for the bill to be reconciliation-compliant. That budget rule was the only reason they rushed this report. No matter how fast they're moving the report, the question of whether they can actually get the votes or whether it's too late entirely is still very up in the air -- Wolf.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, outrage on Capitol Hill.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: If you want a hearing, you better shut up.

MATTINGLY: Protesters drowning out a hearing on the health care bill.

HATCH: The committee will be in recess until we get order.

MATTINGLY: Enforcing its brief postponement as police removed the protesters, many of which were wheelchair-bound.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is not the last chance. This is the best chance.

MATTINGLY: Just six days before the September 30 deadline to pass a bill, GOP leaders face clear public backlash, just 20 percent of Americans supporting the proposal in a new CBS poll in a new CBS poll and only 46 percent of Republicans backing it.

And they are still short of the votes. Senate leadership has lost two of the 52 Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Ted Cruz still has significant problems with the current version, putting the bill right on the edge of failure, this all as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have expressed concerns about the proposal, Collins telling CNN's Jake Tapper:

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill. I am worried about whether CBO's been given enough time to thoroughly analyze the bill.


MATTINGLY: Senator's Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, co-authors, released a revised vision with one clear goal, securing new support.

For Murkowski, there are clear benefits to Alaska, including a boost in federal matching funds for Medicaid, as well as a grandfathering in to Medicaid of Native Americans and Alaska natives who have benefited from the program's expansion under Obamacare.

For conservatives like Senators Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, a further loosening in how states can rid themselves of several of Obamacare's key protections, all in an effort to drive premiums down. The proposal removes the need for states to apply for specific waivers from rules that require plans to cover prescription drugs, mental health, and other services.

It would also allow insurers to create multiple risk pools, splitting up healthy individuals into one pool with lower premiums and putting those with conditions into a pool with higher rates.

An aide to Senator Rand Paul, who wants dramatic changes to the bill, confirming to CNN the most recent changes don't change his entrenched no-vote.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It's fake repeal.

MATTINGLY: For Democrats, an eye on the clock and the policy, with lines forming outside the hearing on the bill more than seven hours before it gaveled in Monday, and senators making clear they would do whatever it took to kill the bill.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: This Trumpcare bill is a health care lemon, a disaster in the making.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, breaking news just now.

Susan Collins, the Maine senator we mentioned in the piece, is a no. She will be opposed to Graham-Cassidy, just now putting out a lengthy statement in the wake of the release of the CBO report.

And if you want to know what that actually means, there are now three solid no-votes against this bill. Republicans can only afford two, given they only have 52 members in the U.S. Senate. That means effectively, barring some major change from Senator John McCain, who's made clear tonight he still opposes the revised bill, Senator Rand Paul, who has made clear tonight he still opposes the revised bill, and now Senator Collins, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not have the ability to get the requisite number of votes to pass this.

Interestingly enough, before Senator Collins' statement came out, Senator Orrin Hatch, a senior member of the Republican Conference and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as he left a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was walking on to the Senate floor.

He was asked, do you think Senator McConnell will put this bill on the floor for a vote? Wolf, he said, "I doubt it."

BLITZER: This is a major, major development right now. For all practical purposes, Phil, it looks like it's dead, Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, their legislation.

They needed 50. The vice president would have broken the tie. The Republican vice president, Mike Pence, would break the tie. They're only going to get 49. The only way I see a change is if there's a Democrat out there who might vote for it. All the Democrats, as far as I can tell, are solidly against it, right?

MATTINGLY: There's not a single Democrat willing to come across the aisle on this. They have made that very clear. They are united as a conference.

The only way anything could change now is if any of the three solid no-votes decide to come back around. Again, they have all spoken to reporters today. All of them have reaffirmed their stance even in the wake of the revisions of the bill.

And it's worth noting that there are still several more senators outstanding that have been raising a lot of concerns as well, Wolf. The idea that this has a chance to get 50 votes now without some dramatic shift that even the people who know how this chamber works best don't currently see, it's just not going to get there right now. They will not have the votes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, it's really very, very significant right now that this effort -- a lot of the members have said to me over the past week or so, Phil, and I assume they have said to you, that if they don't have the votes, Mitch McConnell, majority leader, won't have a formal roll call.

He doesn't want to necessarily embarrass, let's say, some of the moderate Republicans who if they have to vote in favor of this legislation, that could hurt them down the road. So they might just pull the whole thing, right?


So in talking to a number of aides and sources about this over the course of the weekend, that is basically the calculation right now. Senator McConnell hadn't made a decision. They made very clear that he was leaving open until tomorrow, when the Republican Conference has their closed door lunch, to hear what the members have to say before he decides the pathway forward.

But, Wolf, you nailed it. When you talk to people that are involved in the process, the idea of putting this on the floor for another very public defeat, another very public implosion on the number-one agenda item for the 115th Congress, for President Trump, and having that all fall apart again, especially given that this is the week of the launch of the tax reform effort, everybody is keenly aware that on the policy side of things, is incredibly risky, but, more importantly, as you noted, there are several other senators who are not openly coming out right now and talking about their problems with this bill.

But aides tell me they exist. Those are individuals who do not want to have this vote, particularly if it's going to fail, Wolf. That's a lot of things that are being considered right now. But the idea that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would put this on the floor knowing that it's going to fail, knowing all of those different issues out there, it would be a surprise.

[18:15:03] That's why Senator Hatch said what he did. But, again, we will have

to wait and see until tomorrow, when senators meet behind closed doors.

BLITZER: Yes. Susan Collins is now a no. Rand Paul is a no. John McCain is a no. If the three hold firmly, my suspicion is there won't even be a vote on the Senate floor. It will be over.

Phil, stand by.

We're standing by to hear directly from some of these lawmakers.

In the meantime, want to get some quick reaction from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

I assume you're pretty happy about Susan Collins and her decision to vote against this legislation.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, of course Susan Collins is voting no on this legislation. Any rational human being would vote against this monstrosity.

It's got a 20 percent approval rating in the American public, because it essentially is the equivalent of health care arson. It's pretty amazing that this is where we are, that Republicans were even considering voting on a bill without a CBO score that nonpartisan estimates suggest would reduce the number of people with insurance in this country by 30 million, would raise rates by 20 percent, and would get rid of the one part of the Affordable Care Act that even Republicans liked, which was the protection for people with preexisting conditions.

That's gone in this version of the bill. And it got worse in the latest version. I don't completely share Phil's optimism or his analysis that this is a done deal. Rand Paul was a no on the first bill before the very last minute, when he got an amendment he wanted, turned to yes.

So, until Mitch McConnell announces that this isn't coming before the floor of the Senate, I think we all have to assume that they are going to do everything in their power to try to flip some votes at the last minute.

BLITZER: But ,as you know, there are a whole bunch of other Republican senators who are very uncomfortable with this legislation. They haven't made a final decision yet, but they're pretty uncomfortable with it.

Here's the question, Senator. If the Republicans lose this chance, another chance to repeal and replace Obamacare, will your party, the Democratic Party, commit to working with the Republicans to fix the problems with the Affordable Care Act?

MURPHY: Well, of course, as you know, we were working with them. We were actually sitting at the negotiating table, about 80 percent of the way done with a deal to fix what works in the Affordable Care Act and improve on the parts that don't work as well, when Mitch McConnell pulled the plug. We had that deal almost done.

But when they sniffed the ability to take insurance from 30 million people and stick it to President Obama, they walked away from those negotiations. So, that's not even a question, because we were there making real concessions in order to get to a bipartisan deal.

And despite the fact that they walked away from the negotiating table while Democrats were literally sitting there ready to sign the deal, we will be back. We will come back to the table and try to do something that is good for the American public, because everybody in my state just wants this to stop being a political football.

They don't understand why Republicans won't work with Democrats, why they are allergic to us on this issue. Let's work together. Let's start tomorrow.

BLITZER: As you know, this preliminary analysis, the CBO report that just came out, it -- based on the preliminary information they have, they don't have a lot of information, they simply say that the number of those insured in America would be reduced by millions.

They don't say 30 million. Where are you getting that 30 million number?

MURPHY: So, there are a number of independent analyses from the Commonwealth Fund and others that have suggested that the number here looks somewhere between 20 million and 30 million.

This is at least as bad as the bill that we voted on in July and potentially as bad as the original Republican proposal, which was to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement. So, all we can look at are these independent, outside analyses, because the Republicans are running and ramming this through without a CBO score.

But let me guarantee you, this is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe if it passes. It will be at least 20 million, probably as high as 30 million people losing insurance.

BLITZER: Your colleagues in the Senate, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, as you pointed out, Democratic Senator Patty Murray, they have been working on a bipartisan health care push. But that's sort of been derailed right now, as you correctly point out, because of the Lindsey Graham-Bill Cassidy legislation that looks like it's about to fail.

Would you be on board that other bipartisan push if it gets restarted?

MURPHY: One hundred percent . And I was actually part of those talks just a week ago. I had probably a half-a-dozen conversations with Lamar Alexander trying to work out the details of how we could stabilize these markets by taking away from President Trump the power to sabotage the insurance system.

Remember, every single day, President Trump is trying to undermine the American health care system by refusing to pay insurers, by pulling the marketing and advertising dollars for the exchanges.

And then, in exchange, give Republicans some more flexibility. Give the states the ability to offer different kind of plans with a few less requirements. I was ready to sign off on a deal that looked like that until Republicans walked away from the table.


And, again, I will enthusiastically come back to that negotiating table, if that's where the Republicans want to go.

BLITZER: Well, do you think the president could get on board, assuming this current legislation fails? And it now looks almost certainly like it will fail. The Republicans have a 52-48 majority. But three Republicans now firmly say they are opposed. They can't get to that magic number of 50.

Do you see a way that the president would work with Democrats and Republicans, work with Nancy Pelosi, work with Chuck Schumer, work with you to fix Obamacare, instead of simply repealing and replacing it? That effort clearly looks like it has failed.

MURPHY: I don't think President Trump has any interest or any intent to work with us to try to preserve the American health care system.

He is actively trying to undermine the health care insurance system in a myriad of ways. Maybe there will be a reversal of fortune after this bill fails, and he will decide to sit down with us.

But I think it is more likely that Congress is going to have to do the work that our constituents want us to do. Keep the parts of the Affordable Care Act that are working. Fix the parts that aren't working as well. Get Republicans and Democrats to support that package. Put it on the president's desk. Maybe he will veto it.

But let's try to do this without him, because he has not shown any signs thus far of wanting to work with us.

BLITZER: He did apparently make a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to work in preserving the ability of the so-called dreamers to stay here in the United States. We will see if that materializes.

Senator, before I let you go, I want to get your reaction to the president's handling of this enormous crisis in Puerto Rico right now, 3.5 million U.S. citizens following Hurricane Maria. There's no power on the island. They are in desperate shape right now. What's your reaction to the way the president, the Trump administration is dealing with the crisis?

MURPHY: The administration's response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has been wholly insufficient and inadequate.

And it's built upon a foundation that was intentionally made very unstable by years of lack of U.S. federal investment in the Puerto Rican infrastructure. This is a country right now that is in massive humanitarian crisis. And the president, instead of focusing on saving lives in Puerto Rico,

has been tweeting about NFL football players. I want a president who is going to be in the business of saving lives. And right now, that means spending as much time is as necessary to try to rescue Puerto Ricans from this nightmare that they are living through. And right now, we clearly have an administration that is very much distracted.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have much more on the president's feud with protesting NFL players. I will speak with the former head of the NAACP, talk about the controversy, the White House defense.

Much more right after this.



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has just announced she will vote no on the new Republican health care bill. She announced her decision after the Congressional Budget Office issued a new report predicting millions of Americans would lose their health insurance if the legislation were passed.

We are going to have much more on this. We're awaiting her words, but Susan Collins announcing she will vote no, likely dooming this legislation.

Also breaking right now, the White House defending President Trump's attacks on NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, saying the president is concerned about honoring the flag.

Let's dig deeper with the former head of the NAACP, our CNN contributor Cornell William Brooks.

Cornell, this morning, the president tweeted this, and I will put it on the screen. "The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag, and national anthem. NFL must respect this."

What's your reaction, your response to that, Cornell?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Unfortunately, it pains me to say this, that the president's tweets and comments had nothing to do with the flag and everything to do with race.

When the president refers to Colin Kaepernick in Alabama as a son of the B-word, it is racial code for the N-word across America and in Alabama, particularly when he does so in the context of a campaign rally for the Republican nominee for the Senate, particularly when he manages to demonstrate more moral outrage against the NFL, as opposed to Nazis. This has everything to do with race, particularly when Colin

Kaepernick played ball in the league that's 70 percent African- American, and particularly when he was protesting against the fact that African-Americans are three times more likely to lose their lives at the hands of the police than their white counterparts, and where we have 963 people lost their lives at the hands of the police last year.

The fact of the matter is, these athletes, these owners, citizens across the country are standing in the -- I should say, the legacy and lineage of the American tradition of protests. And so they honor -- be clear about this -- they honor the values of the flag and the Constitution when they protest police misconduct.

And so for the president to go down to Alabama and engage in race- baiting is, frankly, disgraceful.

BLITZER: Well, why do you say is code for using the N-word?

[18:30:13] BROOKS: Well, when you refer to an African-American player in Alabama as the son of the B-word, you defame and disgrace his parentage, and those like him. Many of us across the country take exception to that. And I would suggest that, if someone referred -- spoke to the president's son, his youngest son as an SOB, I'm sure the first lady would take exception to that. And he should take exception to that.

And so I've spoken to a great many African-American women and women who find this both misogynistic and racist. And again, it is both race baiting and gender-baiting for political purposes.

Now, the president could have spoken about police misconduct. He could have spoken about the constitutionally wrong-headed, morally wrong-hearted policy of the Department of Justice with respect to consent decrees. He could have talked about a number of issues substantively.

But he took this as an occasion to again engage in race baiting. He didn't take on the issue. He didn't address what Colin Kaepernick and so many others, so many Americans across this country are protesting against. Again, he engaged in name-calling, and he did it for political purposes.

BLITZER: So are you saying the president is a racist?

BROOKS: I am saying that the president is engaging in racist behavior. When you refer to Nazis and white supremacists as fine people; when you re-tweet things from white supremacist websites; when you appoint Steve Bannon as a presidential adviser; when you engage in this wrong-headed philosophy of birtherism. The president has engaged in serial -- serially racist behavior.

Now calling him a racist -- he's making the case to be called a racist by the things he has done. He's making that case.

BLITZER: What would you like to see or hear from the president right now? BROOKS: What I'd like to hear from the president right now is I'd

like to hear the president focus on the issues. Address the issue of police misconduct in this country. Call for the passage of the "end racial profiling" act.

Why can't the president challenge those who gave so generously to his campaign to give to a fund to support the victims, the families of -- the victims of police misconduct?

Why can't the president stand with -- call these players to the White House and engage in a conversation, a serious and substantive conversation about what do we do about the loss of life represented in the tragedy of Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile, or Tamir Rice, or Sandra Bland, or Michael Brown? He could do that. He could stand up and step forward and conduct himself as a president instead of engaging in divisiveness by attacking the NFL.

What president, Wolf, ask yourself this -- what president refers to a player as an SOB? That's just not appropriate. It's bigoted. It's ugly.

But here's what I'm encouraged by. I'm encouraged by the fact that you have players, you have Steph Curry, you have LeBron James, you certainly have Colin Kaepernick, you have players and owners and fans who are standing together, who are demonstrating that we are stronger together than we are fighting against one another and being divided. And who are demonstrating the eloquence of our hopes as a people.

And the fact is you can both protest against what's wrong with America even as you love America, and even as you -- as you support the values of the flag. Because it's one thing to wave a flag. It's another thing to fight, to protest, to vote for the values of the flag. And that's what those athletes are doing. And the president should model their behavior.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks is the former president of the NAACP. He's a CNN contributor. Cornell, thanks for joining us.

BROOKS: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the president's feud with the NFL. That's coming up. Critics are asking why he's attacking the First Amendment rights of American citizens.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now"?



[18:39:10] BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham reacting to news that his health care bill is likely doomed right now, because Susan Collins has announced she will vote against it. Let's listen in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: ... suggest that you don't cover pre-existing illnesses, and I think this is an idea whose time has come. It repeals and replaces Obamacare. I'll let you look at the CBO report...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were doing this last go around in July -- I'll let my photographer come around. We were doing this last go- round in July, one of the things you said you were worried about with some of these other bills was the idea that you'd sort of have the special deals for different states, giveaways to different states.

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is the tweaking of this formula that provide more money for Alaska and Arizona and Maine and Kentucky not qualify as a special giveaway for a specific state?

GRAHAM: That's not even close. They're all expansion states. So the goal is to take non-expansion states like South Carolina and give this parity.

The OMB numbers came out with far more dramatic increases in Obamacare premiums than calculated, so we had to change the formula. So a state like mine will not get to parity until 2030. So what does that mean? It helps people like Alaska and Arizona who expanded and makes their glide path better.


GRAHAM: So we did nothing for Alaska we didn't do for Hawaii. So the formula is designed to get the non-expansion states up to parity with expansion states...

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to monitor Senator Lindsey Graham. Looks like his legislation is now likely -- looks almost certain, in fact -- to fail, now that Susan Collins has decided to vote against it.

Earlier John McCain and Senator Rand Paul, they said they would vote against it. You need 50 to get it passed. If those three hold firmly, looks like they will, and there are no changes, they would only get 49. That would doom it.

Here's Susan Collins just moments ago, explaining her very important decision.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I wanted to wait until the CBO analysis came out to ensure that it confirmed what I believed would be the impact of the Graham-Cassidy bill on the number of Americans receiving health insurance coverage.

And it found, as I expected would be the case, that it would have a negative impact on millions of Americans who are now insured. So it was that final piece of the puzzle that I had been waiting to -- to confirm. Let me just...


BLITZER: Susan Collins announcing her decision. She will vote "no" against this legislation.

Let's get some analysis from all of our panel right now. We'll start with Don Lemon. Don, what's your reaction to this -- this late- breaking development? It looks like it's over at least for now.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I've learned that you shouldn't count anything out, as I've been on the air, Wolf, you know, when the vote count is actually happening. You don't know until it happens.

But I mean, it certainly is a blow for these Republicans who have been trying to repeal and replace Obamacare for almost a decade now, seven or so years, almost eight years that they've been trying to do it. Voting many, many, many times to do it. And now that they a Republican House, Republican Senate, and a Republican oval, they still can't do it. It says a lot about the Republicans, but it also reflects on the president, as well, his efforts to try to get it overturned. A campaign promise, another one, probably, possibly, but probably that he won't be able to fulfill.

BLITZER: Yes. And you know, Rebecca Berg, Jimmy Kimmel just tweeted this: "Thank you, Senator Collins, for putting people ahead of party. We are all in your debt."

It certainly looks like it's over, at least right now. They had until the end of this week to get it passed with only 50 votes. After this week, they would need 60.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. And it's possible that this will also open the floodgates, Wolf, for other Republicans who have been on the fence including Lisa Murkowski on the more moderate side, and Ted Cruz on the more conservative side, to also announce that they are not going to support this bill. So we'll have to wait and see what happens.

But certainly, I think if the bill, in fact, dies in the next few days, Republicans are going to have to decide what comes next. Are they going to seek a bipartisan approach as Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray had already started on the Senate Health Committee?

And one other question I think you're going to hear from a lot of Republicans is did the president do enough? Could he have done more? Certainly, this weekend he was not focused on this key piece of legislation and getting this approved by the Senate. Instead, he was tweeting about football. He was talking about Steph Curry and his White House visit or lack thereof.

And I think you're going to hear some frustration in the days to come from Republicans who really wanted to get this done and maybe didn't have the support system that they would have counted on from the White House. BLITZER: Jamie Gangel, those of us who know Susan Collins, know her

record on the issue. And I know you've spoken extensively with her in recent days. None of us should be surprised that, once the CBO report just came out the last few minutes, and said millions of Americans would lose their health insurance if this legislation were passed, none of us should be surprised she has decided to come out and say she will vote against it.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. We were texting over the weekend, and she has been saying for several days that she was leaning strongly against this.

She said today now that the final -- this was the fourth go-round, she didn't like the speed, the compressed time that this was being done. And she just feels it's too important to do it quickly. And she also said it was deeply flawed.

The one thing I want to mention is that, while President Trump was tweeting and talking about the NFL, it turns out, no surprise, that Senator Collins was being heavily lobbied by almost everyone in the administration. According to our colleague, Capitol Hill producer Ted Barrett, Donald Trump called Senator Collins today to try to convince her to change her mind. Vice President Pence called her over the weekend. She did tell them she would take another look at it, but when the CBO report came out and she saw that millions were going to lose insurance, it just reinforced her concerns that she'd been expressing all along.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The specific language in the CBO report, the number of people with comprehensive health insurance that covers high- cost medical events would be reduced by millions, reduced by millions. Strong words that convinced Susan Collins to announce she would vote against it. It certainly looks like that legislation at least for now is dead.

David Swerdlick, I want to turnpike to the other big story we're following. President Trump says his criticism of the NFL, some of the players when they kneel, it isn't about race, it's about patriotism, it's about respect for the American flag. But as you know, Colin Kaepernick who started these protests, wasn't protesting the flag. He was protesting what he thought were injustices to African-Americans by police.

Why do you believe the president seems to be misrepresenting what a lot of these players are now protesting?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So, Wolf, the president is right. Certainly in his speech on Friday night and in his recent tweets, he never said anything specifically about black players, but all of this is about context.

And as you say, Wolf, the underlying issue here that Colin Kaepernick started his protests about, it was the police violence that he saw directed against African-Americans. If I can read you a quote from Colin Kaepernick, he said a year ago that he is not anti-American, but he wants to help make America better. And he thinks having these conversations about police violence directed toward African-Americans helps everybody wanted those issues better.

And he went out of his way after his second protest to take a knee rather than to just simply sit out the anthem, in his words, because he wanted to do this in what he thought was a more respectful way. Obviously people can disagree with this. Obviously, the president doesn't like this. But to say that this is about the flag or free speech and gloss over the underlying issue of police violence is misleading.

BLITZER: You know, Don, a lot of people have brought up the fact that the president seemed to sort of defend some of the neo-Nazis who protested in Charlottesville when he suggested, when he said specifically there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville. Why do you believe the president won't defend the rights of these African-American players by and large, mostly African- Americans, I think about 70 percent of the NFL is African-American, about 80 percent of the NBA is African-Americans.

Why do you think he won't defend their right to protest?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think the president's history on race relations shows -- I don't really have to spell it out. All you have to do is go back and look at his history starting with the 1970s and '80s and the Central Park Five and on and on, and just look at his rhetoric on the campaign trail and beyond.

But I would say basically, it's -- it's, as I've said before, this president needs a good history lesson. It's basically ignorance. He doesn't understand. And I would encourage the president to actually go and read the words from the national anthem. What -- the ending which says, "land of the free and home of the brave."

Those people who are on that field who are taking a knee are free people who can -- who -- who are able to have and afford and afforded their free speech rights on that field. And that's all that they were doing. They lived in a home of -- they were brave to be able to do that --

GANGEL: Am I hearing --

LEMON: Those people -- sorry. I'm hearing Jamie Gangel.

They were brave to be able to stand there. Can you imagine taking a stance like that, Colin Kaepernick taking a stance, kneeling down, when he doesn't know if his career is going to be on the line? Nobody else is doing it but him.

That is a brave person. That is what the national anthem says. He's doing exactly what this country says, and he should go with what the -- what the anthem says. He should go back and look at history.

People have been protesting the national anthem since before it was the official national anthem, starting in the late 1800s, starting with World War I, World War II, Vietnam. People have protested and have not been standing for the national anthem for a long time, and many of those people are patriots. It's their patriotic duty to be able to do that, to make the country a better place. That's simple as that.

BLITZER: Jamie what -- yes, that was important. Jamie, what are you hearing from Republicans?

GANGEL: Well, first, I apologize to don for speaking in his ear.

LEMON: That's all right.

GANGEL: What I keep hearing over and over again over the weekend is, why does he have to be so divisive? If he's changing the topic, Republicans would like him to change it to getting something done, to use some of his political capital to get substance done, policy done.

[18:50:10] Especially with Puerto Rico sitting there, with millions of Americans, you know, suffering with hurricane damage, why did he spend the last three days on that?

Also, one Republican said to me, this is not good for the Republican Party. He said, I don't know if Donald Trump is a racist or not. But this feels like Charlottesville all over again many he has his base, why does he feel the need to double down over and over? Wolf?

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. Let's take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news right after this.


[18:55:27] BLITZER: We have more breaking news tonight. The White House is defending the response to Puerto Rico's hurricane's disaster. But the governor there is pleading for more help for the U.S. territory and its more than 3 million American citizens.

CNN's Bill Weir is now in San Juan.

But, Bill, earlier, a little while ago, you were in one of the hardest hit areas, one of the few reporters to actually get there. The governor is warning of a humanitarian crisis on U.S. soil.

Update our viewers on what you're seeing.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, bottom line, Puerto Rico is facing the biggest crisis this island has seen in a century or so. A far little adventure today is any indication, the hardest hit areas include most of the island and they need everything -- food and water and power and information.

The official death count now 10. The mayor of this one municipality told me six people died after the storm. People dying of heart attacks that could have been saved, but the hospitals have no power. It's so difficult, I can't even express to you the challenges they're facing now even just getting from point A to point B is beyond belief. Take a look.


WEIR (voice-over): It is so hard to move around this island because Puerto Rico is a tangled mess of shattered trees and downed power lines. And endless gas lines where the desperate can wait half a day under the blazing sun for a few precious gallons.

In the rural highlands south of the Capitol, it looks like a bomb went off. Lush green hillsides are now and broken by the power of Maria's wind. And it's up here where most of the 28,000 residents of Aguas Buenas had no choice but to shelter in place and pray.

As this camper was tossed like a toy, Deanna (ph) and her family were huddled in their home across the street.

(on camera): How are you? How is life, how are you surviving?



WEIR: It's hard to tell from the road, but the back end of this house is on concrete stilts driven into the soil. So, imagine the anxiety as Maria really picked up strength.

Deanna inside, she's caring for invalid husband, she's worried that the back end of the house, his bedroom, is going to slide into the ravine. So, she moves the whole family into the living room.

They hear the crash of this power tower go down on the neighbor's roof, water is coming in through the shutters. She's trying to keep it up and at one point, she tells me they prepared to die together.

Which is scarier, combat in Vietnam or Hurricane Maria?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hurricane is worse.

WEIR (voice-over): Miguel survived a combat tour in Cambodia. And now, Deanna (ph) worries about the last vial of his insulin at risk of spoiling in a powerless refrigerator.

Yet with textbook hospitality, she takes the time to make us coffee.

A few miles up the road, more kindness, and much more misery. Here's a drone shot of this area before Maria, and here it is today.

(on camera): This is what a category 4 hurricane will do to wood construction. The roof, who knows what happened to the roof. It's amazing the walls held the way they did.

(voice-over): Trophies earned by Wilfredo's grandkids still in the room with no roof. He was released from prostate surgery the day the storm hit, holed up with his whole family in a local church and they all survive. But now, he has little left but his faith.

(on camera): How would you describe people's desperation? Are you seeing looting? Are you seeing anger?

(voice-over): There has been looting, the mayor of Aguas Buenas tells me. There have been robberies. And when it comes to the feelings of the people of this town, we are saddened because we're still looking for people.

(on camera): As an American, I wonder, how do Puerto Ricans feel about being an American territory in times like this? Do you think America will come save you? Do you hope they will?

(voice-over): Yes, he tells me. President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration. We will move forward with the help of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What they can give us we will receive with a lot of love, with a lot of love, with patience.


WEIR: That's Gladys. She's from Chicago, she is one sample of the warmth, the grace and faith. I found there, Wolf, the need is only going to get more desperate. It could be months before they get full power back to this island.

BLITZER: Yes, they need help and they need it desperately.

Bill Weir in Puerto Rico for us, thanks for that important report.

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.