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Trump Attacks Critical San Juan Mayor During Crisis; The Bronx Sends Aids to Puerto Rico; Trump, First Lady to Visit Puerto Rico Tuesday; U.S. Virgin Islands Hit by Back-to-Back Hurricanes; Tough Week for Trump, From Puerto Rico Response to NFL Feud; U.S. Has Direct Lines to Pyongyang, Attempt to Calm Tension; Trump Pushes for Newly Unveiled Tax Reform Plan; 2 Demonstrations for Racial, Gender Equality on National Mall; Americans Deeply Divided on NFL Taking Knee. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired September 30, 2017 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:00:16] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you very much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with what is quickly becoming a life-or-death situation for people in Puerto Rico, and President Trump attacking those struggling to survive in a series of tweets from his private golf club this morning. The president says, "The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand federal workers on island doing a terrific job."

Right now, in Puerto Rico, nearly 1.5 million still have no access to clean drinking water. Some are being forced to fill up jugs from creeks and streams. More than three million are without electricity and waiting in line for hours just to get a few gallons of fuel. These are people, the most powerful man in the world is verbally attacking. And this is the person the president is accusing of being nasty to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN: We are dying here. And I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have team coverage on this, from Puerto Rico to the White House.

Let's begin with CNN's Boris Sanchez, in San Juan. So, Boris, we'll get to the president's verbal attacks in a moment.

But I want to start now with what you've heard from -- what we've heard from the mayor of San Juan after she was begging for help and then the president unleashing.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. The situation is improving, though incrementally here in Puerto Rico. And not just because there are several thousand federal workers here. Also because the community is coming together. We're in a neighborhood, the Condado District. There are a lot of senior citizens that live here. A lot of the buildings you see behind me, when the power went out, their elevators were rendered useless. They couldn't go up and downstairs. I spoke with a group of doctors that were going into the high-rises to look after these senior citizens to make sure that they had medication. In many cases, they were running out of things like insulin so the doctors themselves started pitching in money to buy medications for those senior citizens.

Neighbors are helping neighbors, Fred. Though it is still going slowly. There's a market not far, a Walgreens, that remains closed. People are asking when it will finally open in order to get resources into the community, things like water, food, batteries. Much of the island still doesn't have electricity. There's a feeling here that there is progress, but that more needs to be done -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: And the president attacking Puerto Rican officials saying they have poor leadership abilities and, quote, "want everything done for them," what have people been saying?

SANCHEZ: Yes, I just finished speaking with a Trump supporter who tells me that she was taken aback by the president's comments. She said that we are just as American as people in Florida and Texas. Why is he saying these things about us and not about them? She went on to say that Puerto Rico sends thousands of people every year to serve in the military. Why aren't -- why aren't military officials - more of them coming here to help Puerto Ricans? She was very emotional. This coming from a Trump supporter.

I heard from other people that said things to me that I cannot repeat to you on the air. Many are echoing the idea, these are hurtful comments, and they are not in tune with what they are feeling on the ground. They wanted to kind of -- a different response, a more empathetic take, perhaps, from the president of the United States __ Fred?

WHITFIELD: Boris Sanchez in San Juan. Thank you very much.

Puerto Rico is in desperate need of food, water, all kind of necessities.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live for us in New York where people are sending whatever they can to help those on the island.

[13:04:49] POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, we have a few people walk into the shot, it's because there are so many people coming together in the heart of the Bronx as folks are trying to gather many of the key items that you heard from Boris, water, batteries, diapers, and the list goes on and on.

Many of these people in the heart of the Bronx have been here for several hours now. Folks have literally been driving right up and dropping off large pellets. Water, as you're about to see here, and even the smallest supplies here. Getting canned goods, anything that they can get. Because as we heard from President Trump, saying that it takes a community effort to try to recover, well, as we heard, the president put it, this is that kind of community effort. This is the only way that these communities are going to be able to pull through what's been happening here. Already at least one large container has been filled with supplies. Organizers here telling me they expect at least two or three more of the containers.

The why we are here is because of the Bronx. It is about the place where there's the largest concentration of Puerto Rican communities in the United States, at least in the New York City area. This is what we've seen here in the Bronx. As we're seeing it here, you're noticing, there are pockets doing similar efforts.

A positive effort here, a very important outcome that we're noticing on the streets. As many people here have relatives and loved ones still struggling to survive 1,500 miles or so away from Maria.

WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, in the Bronx. Thank you very much.

Not far away, in New Jersey, the president of the United States is launching a string of tweets from his private golf club there.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is live in Branchburg and near the president's club.

Ryan, the president is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. And now he's also said that the first lady will be going along with him. Are we hearing anything more from the White House in terms of an itinerary, what his goal is, what he expects to see?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, the president tweeting himself about the visit to Puerto Rico this morning. This was after the flurry of tweets where he was critical of the mayor of San Juan and critical of the people of Puerto Rico in their effort to help themselves in this recovery. The president tweeting, "I will be going to Puerto Rico on Tuesday with Melania. We'll hopefully be able to stop at the U.S. Virgin Islands." Then he put in parentheses that the people are working hard.

The president has yet to explain what his plans when he gets to Puerto Rico. The goal would be for him to see firsthand the devastation of this island that's been hit so hard by Hurricane Maria and has the danger of another round of rain coming in over the weekend.

The president really defending his administration's response suggesting that they're doing everything they possibly can and that the ability of those resources to get to the people in need are largely the fault of the workers on the ground there. The governor of Puerto Rico pushed back on that criticism a bit, said that his -- people are doing everything they can. But it's the mayor of San Juan that suggested that the people there

are the conduit to get the resources from the boats that are coming in to the people that need them the most. There seems to be a breakdown in communication there at some point.

Fredricka, later this afternoon, the president will have a series of phone calls with the governor of Puerto Rico. He will talk to the FEMA administrator, also going to talk to a letter from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The goal there to get an understanding as to exactly what the federal government can do better to help the situation. We'll have to see if that results in any change to the effort happening there in Puerto Rico -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thank you very much, in New Jersey.

Ahead of the president's visit, the mayor of San Juan appears to be responding to the president's attacks via Twitter. Just a short time ago, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tweeting this picture. That's her in the water, showing her wading through it. You see a bullhorn she's carrying, shaking the hands of a young man on the canoe. The mayor, with this image, with the caption saying, "The goal is one, saving lives." It was the president who said she was showing poor leadership.

The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is gripping the country. But they're not the only island struggling to recover. The U.S. Virgin Islands also hit by back-to-back hurricanes.

Here now is CNN's Robyn Curnow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This isn't Puerto Rico, but in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the trail of destruction and suffering are much the same. The U.S. and British Virgin Islands were dealt a one-two blow by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Irma during the first week of September, then Maria two weeks later.

Once pristine, the landscape of the British Virgin Islands is now littered with twisted metal and tangled tree trunks.

[13:20:02] (on camera): Frankly, the scene is like something out of a horror movie. Very apocalyptic. Also, when you look at the landscape, as well, we've seen the decimation of all green vegetation. You know, everything has gone basically. So it's pretty stark.

(voice-over): Some 2,000 British military personnel are on the ground in the British Virgin Islands. More than 100 tons of aid have arrived there. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents feel they've been left in the shadows of Puerto Rico's recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via telephone): We understand Puerto Rico's a much larger island and a lot more populated people there. But we do have our own needs here on the island. And we don't see the supplies coming in for us as much as we need them. You know, we hear the plane flying over to Puerto Rico and sending them lots of supplies. CURNOW: Aid is reaching the Virgin Islands slowly. Complicating the

situation, many goods bound for the Virgin Islands coming via also hard-hit Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Air Force has flown in communication equipment. The National Guard and FEMA have teams on the ground there. And the Salvation Army is serving food to nearly 5,000 residents daily.

Officials say more help is on the way as residents take recovery the only way they can, one day at a time.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, in the span of one week, President Trump launches a war with the NFL, is accused of forgetting about three million Americans, losing a cabinet secretary, and faces another stinging defeat in the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. So how will this weigh on the president's agenda moving forwards?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:15:51] WHITFIELD: It's been a pretty tough week for President Trump. In addition to a tweet storm this morning where the president criticized Puerto Rican officials' hurricane response, claiming, quote, "They want everything to be done for them," it was just over the week ago the president launched an all-out attack on NFL players protesting racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

We warn you, the president used language that was offensive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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"?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: He's fired!

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And you know the firestorm that that then produced.

Then Monday, Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, announced that she would cast a no vote on the latest Republican attempt of repeal and replace Obamacare, effectively killing that legislation. Then, on Tuesday, President Trump's candidate in Alabama's GOP Senate primary lost to the candidate backed by former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Then Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke calling the government's response to the devastation in Puerto Rico as a "good news story."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people. And the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So Duke later had to walk back those comments, saying that she meant that people are working together in the response.

Yet today, many in Puerto Rico are still struggling to get food, water, and gas more than a week after the hurricane. San Juan's Mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, is among those urging the U.S. government for more help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: We're dying here. We truly are dying here. And I keep saying it, "SOS. If anyone can hear us, you know, if Mr. Trump can hear us, let's just get it over with and get the ball rolling."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And then on Friday, earlier in the day, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned under pressure for racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel on charter and government planes.

Let's discuss all of this with CNN opinion writer and immigration analyst, Raul Reyes, and CNN political commentator and Trump supporter, John Phillips, on the phone with us.

Good that both of you are with us.

The tweets this morning, again, took the conversation in yet another direction with the president saying, "Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico, and they want everything to be done for them when it should be community effort."

So, Raul, you first.

You know, of all the stuff that has transpired involving the Trump administration this week, is it the handling of Puerto Rico where perhaps the stakes are highest for the president of the United States?

RAUL REYES, CNN OPINION WRITER & IMMIGRATION ANALYST: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Number one, because lives are at stake. The lives of American citizens are at stake. We do not know yet the extent of the devastation. But number two, because some of these other battles, the political ones, will go on and on. In the case of a natural disaster, like Puerto Rico, the first impression that a president or leader makes, that is almost virtually impossible to erase. And we see now that a widespread perception that the president has not handled it well. Honestly, it is almost grotesque that the president sees the mayor of San Juan, who is literally begging for help saving lives, he sees that as some type of attempt to make him look bad. For him to say that the people of Puerto Rico want everything done for them, those type of comments are offensive on an ordinary day. At a time when people are literally dying for relief, those comments are despicable. And the president has created yet another problem for him in not only that, he has created a tremendous distraction from the crisis on the island. Going forward, all of the Republican leaders are going to be asked if and how they distance themselves from these truly offensive comments.

[13:20:10] WHITFIELD: So John Phillips on the phone with us.

The president does make it sound like when you read his tweets, this is so personal. He is making this now a personal attack and singling out the mayor specifically.

John, if you can hear me, what are the dangers that you see here?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): Well, I think the president's critics will never be satisfied. I think that they are going to have a negative reaction to anything he does.

He's been praised by the governor of Puerto Rico. There are 10,000 people who were send down there. He sent a general down to aid with the organizing efforts. He waived the Jones Act. It's been a public/private partnership where American Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have been giving much-needed items to the people of Puerto Rico.

You know, he's the president. He's got the power of the executive branch. He doesn't have a magic wand. They got hit by two very big storms. I can say that, as someone who lived through the Northridge quake in 1994 in Los Angeles, where we had Mayor Dick Reardon, of Los Angeles, and California Governor Pete Wilson, and President George H.W. Bush moving heaven and earth trying to rebuild the city when freeways collapsed and buildings collapsed, and we had a loss of life, they were still roundly criticized all through the process because people are suffering. And you want it to happen faster. The reality is that the government is still the government, and it's never going to run like a Swiss clock. You do the best that you can with the resources that you have.

WHITFIELD: So, John, isn't that -- you say the critics. Is it the critics as to how the president should be seeing this, or is it frustrations being exhibited and amplified in different ways from people being hungry, going thirsty, going without medicine? Sick, becoming even more sick, or those who are dying, and this that is -- if those things are being magnified by pictures we're able to see, how is that translation critics as opposed to the reality and people in great need still?

PHILLIPS: I mean, I would refer back to the governor of Puerto Rico, who said clearly that the president, the federal government has been giving them the tools and resources that they need. I mean, those are the people that you talk to. Those are the people that you deal with. (CROSSTALK)

FREDRICKA: The people we've been talking to say they haven't seen those things because they're in difficult localities. And the questions that the mayor and others are asking are why are those things not being better mobilized. It's one thing to see that in San Juan. What if you were an hour or two hours outside of San Juan some respond to those people because it sounds like you're calling these people critics.

PHILLIPS: I'm talking specifically about political critics, who have been all over Twitter, who have been all over cable news, going after them. I think that they think that they can score some political points.

WHITFIELD: But the president singled out the mayor. She is among those saying we need, we need. The first part of the question --

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: Right, outside of him --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Your response was critics --

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: Poll numbers after Irma, after the earthquake that hit Mexico, after hurricane Harvey. His numbers were going up. And that's something his critics weren't happy with. This is an opportunity to go on the offensive for them.

WHITFIELD: Raul?

REYES: First of all, Fredricka, I think we may have talked about this some time ago. I myself, I grew up in southern California. My family and I also went through the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There is really absolutely no comparison between that quake and the scale and scope of devastation going on in Puerto Rico, where people in the hospitals are dying because the hospitals cannot run generators. There is absolutely no comparison.

What we see here, from the president, it's not about -- the person who is making it political is our chief executive. In fact, you see other people in the government, such as General Buchanan, he has stated he does not have enough troops, he does not have enough supplies. Elaine Duke, whose clip you played earlier, she walked back her earlier positive comments and said there's still a lot of work to be done.

It is the president who is turning this into a political affair. And it's dangerous because each day that goes by, more people, more and more people, lives are threatened. You have to remember Puerto Rico was a vulnerable population to begin with. They were in economic crisis. They have many senior citizens. Puerto Ricans, unfortunately, happen to suffer disproportionately from things like asthma and diabetes. Factor all of those in with a catastrophic event, and it's just unconscionable that our president is in the safety and security of a golf course launching personal attacks at this woman, who has really been a hero, not only for her city but for the entire island.

And there are a few very, very simple things that President Trump could do that he has not done. For example, he could take to Twitter with a few keystrokes and remind all Americans that Puerto Ricans are our fellow citizens. He has not done that. He could send more National Guard troops to Puerto Rico, because everyone on the ground says that troops who are there are not enough. He's failed to take even the most basic steps toward dealing with the disaster.

And you know what, as far as to the argument that this is somehow political, that his enemies are cheering this, listen, I am a very staunch critic of this president. I wish this recovery were a huge success. I wish he were leading the greatest recovery in Puerto Rico ever. Unfortunately, he is not. That's the reality. The reaction comes from reality. It's not based on some type of political point scoring. It is based on humanitarian concerns for the lives of our fellow Americans.

[13:25:58] WHITFIELD: John, how do you see the president potentially turning this around for his visit scheduled on Tuesday?

PHILLIPS: Well, a lot of what goes on when you're dealing with these sorts of crises is behind the scenes. I would make sure that I would be on the phone in constant communication with the governor of Puerto Rico, with the general, who was just sent down there to head the organizing efforts. And I would make sure these guys have what they need to move forward because, you know, as your other guests said, Puerto Ricans are Americans. We're all in this thing together. We've got to help these people get the power back on and get the hospitals moving and get the electricity back.

WHITFIELD: OK. John Phillips, Raul Reyes, thank you very much, gentlemen, appreciate it.

REYES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Still ahead, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has direct lines of communication to Pyongyang. This, as the U.S. works to bring down tensions in the region over North Korea's continued missile tests. Tillerson's advice to both sides in the conflict, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:31:25] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news on North Korea and its nuclear threat. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the most immediate need is to calm the situation down and for the North to stop firing off missiles. He also said the U.S. has direct channels to Pyongyang and is talking directly with North Korean officials. Tillerson, who is now headed back home, made the remarks following a meeting with China's president.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Beijing.

Matt, the back channels similar to what has been used during the Obama administration and others?

MATT RIVERS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC CORRESPONDENT: It could be. We didn't get deals from the secretary of state during this relatively short briefing that we had at the U.S. ambassador's residence here. It was an off-camera briefing. The fact that this is the Trump administration admitting for the first time that it does have direct communication channels with Pyongyang over its missile testing program, its nuclear program, that's significant.

The exact quote from the secretary of state, when asked if Pyongyang is ready to talk about this, he said, "We are probing, so stay tuned." we asked the North Koreans, would you like to talk? We have lines of communication to Pyongyang, we're not in a dark situation or a blackout. We have a couple of channels to Pyongyang. We can talk to them. We do talk to them directly through our own channels."

So these two sides have talked in the past. But it usually centers on things like prisoner releases. You'll remember Otto Warmbier being released by the North Koreans. That release was negotiated in Oslo, Norway, by both sides. This is about the missile program, the nuclear program, that perhaps one day could lead to a diplomatic solution far, far, far down the road. The secretary of state said this is very much in the early stages. He said he hasn't had any conversations with any North Koreans yet.

But the fact that they're talking given the fiery rhetoric we've had not only from the North Korean leader and the state media operation but also from the U.S. president, this is a good sign for many of us who would hope for a diplomatic situation to a tense situation in this part of the world.

WHITFIELD: Matt Rivers, in Beijing, thank you.

Still ahead, fresh off a stinging defeat on health care, the GOP now turns its attention to tax reform. The president says his plan is good for average Americans, but is it good enough to win support of Democrats?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:38:12] WHITFIELD: President Trump is making a big push for his newly unveiled tracks reform plan, saying, it's centered around, quote "a giant, beautiful, round, massive tax cut that will help American companies grow."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For decades, the policy of Washington, D.C., on the subject of manufacturing was a policy best summarized in one word: surrender. They surrendered. Under my administration, the era of economic surrender is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: The president insists the GOP tax plan will also help average everyday Americans. How does it aim to do that?

CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the opening argument in tax reform. The president unveiling what he and Republicans would like to do in terms of your taxes.

And it looks like what they have on paper here is real tax reform. Real tax reform different from just tax cuts. In real tax reform, you simplify the tax code. That's what they want to do here, make it much easier to follow your taxes on maybe a form the size of a postcard. Close loopholes. Lower tax rates, and boost growth and hiring. That's the point.

Let's talk about what's in here. Cutting the tax brackets. The middle-class tax income, 25 percent. Top income would be taxed at 35 percent. And the low end of the spectrum, 12 percent. Taking seven tax brackets and shrinking it down to three. This one's higher than the lowest tax bracket now. Today, the lowest tax bracket is 10 percent. This is 12 percent. What the White House says is that by doubling the standard deduction for families, the first $24,000 of income for a married couple is tax free, that would help people, millions of families would pay no taxes whatsoever.

Let's talk about what this eliminates. Most itemized deductions. If you live in a state, like California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, these are states where you pay big state taxes. Today, you could write those off your federal return. This would eliminate that. That's why you're already seeing pushback from Republican Congress members of those states. It gets rid of the alternative minimum tax and estate tax. These are two points the critics said benefits the rich and companies more than anyone else.

Here's what individuals keep in this plan. The mortgage interest deduction, very popular. Charitable giving deduction. And some higher education. And retirement plans, 401K, for example, 529 plans, those are still tax advantaged.

Here's the corporate tax rate. Today, it's 35 percent. Proposed, 20 percent. You look at the small business rate, this would help small business and entrepreneurs. So this is the business part of the tax reform plan that's on the table.

Again, an opening argument, this is the part of the plan that Wall Street really likes. They think this will boost profits and boost growth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[13:40:57] WHITFIELD: Thank you very much, Christine Romans.

So how will that plan play out on Capitol Hill and on Main Street? Here to discuss, CNN political analyst, Margaret Talev, in Bedminster,

New Jersey, traveling with the president. And in Washington, CNN political analyst, Rebecca Berg.

Good to see both of you.

Let's begin with the huge cut on corporate taxes. Republicans and the White House saying it will bring jobs and business back to the United States. Democratic leaders say it's the same old failed trickle-down economics formula and gift to the Americans.

Margaret, what is the White House strategy to try to counter those arguments?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The White House strategy is to talk about this on two fronts. Number one is the idea of job creation. You saw him do that with the manufacturers yesterday. The other is emphasizing that this goes hand in hand with relief for middle-class Americans. And the president already feels like he's made a really big concession. He had wanted to hold out for a reduction of the corporate tax down to 15 percent. Internal divisions inside the White House saying that's just not possible. There's no way that it could pass. It wouldn't work, wouldn't 0- he sort of agreed that he can live with 20 percent. But look, there's going to be a tremendous amount of debate. And when you pile on some of those considerations about Republican representation in blue states, where the reduction, the elimination of some of those itemized deductions is playing out, you see that, again, this is not really that much easier than health care in terms of a legislative push.

WHITFIELD: And so, Rebecca, that potential clash between Republicans that Christine was talking about, you know, involving the -- the scrapping, you know, of particular measures. How much more complicated might this be for the White House? He has really no political clout, thus far. He's counted on members of the Hill for crafting his legislation without a lot of involvement. That's been the criticism. Will he be approaching that differently this time?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as we like to say, the devil is always in the details with a major piece of reform like tax reform. So this could get very messy.

But actually, in the first week or so, with this rollout, this has been surprisingly easy, positive for Republicans and for the administration rolling this out. And the big difference that we're seeing so far between the health care fight on Capitol Hill and this tax reform proposal that they're putting forth is that Republicans so far are actually coming together and all sides of the Republican spectrum are supporting this bill so far. The Freedom Caucus has said in principle that they plan to support this on the House side. You've had a range of conservative to moderate Republican groups coming out and saying they plan to support this.

So assuming that Republican lawmakers are able to pass this through what we call the reconciliation process, so you would only need a simple majority, they could pass this with Republicans alone, if Republicans stick with together on, this they could get this done. And the political pressure, Fred, is really there for them to do that because they weren't able to get health care done. Republicans and the president really feel like they need to get something big done before the end of the year here.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

And so, Margaret, what is different? Why is there a much greater consensus thus far?

TALEV: Part of it is the absence of that resolution on health care and the feeling that, really, they can't have the only major accomplishment of Republicans before the end of the year being -- holding out the possibility of relief for undocumented immigrants. So there is a real push to move ahead on this issue.

But watch the calendar for a clue as to whether the process is becoming bogged down or not. We're talking about officials inside the administration, talking about timelines of as early as late October, early November for House votes, and sometime the end of November for Senate votes, a goal to get this done by year's end. If you start to see some of the timetables slip, it means the process has become complicated.

WHITFIELD: And then, Rebecca, the president's handling of Puerto Rico right now, how might it -- his handling impact this push for tax reform or any other big-ticket legislative item that he still wants to get under his belt?

[13:45:20] BERG: Well, certainly, if it is taking a share of his attention as we have seen that it is, he's traveling to Puerto Rico this week. As we can see from the president's tweets this morning, this is consuming a large share of his thinking at this time. So it really just crowds out some of the other things like tax reform that he could be thinking about, strategizing, and also speaking with Congress about, as well. If you look at the congressional side of the ledger, you could have Congress needing to address Puerto Rico as well, sending them relief money as they did with Texas and Florida. And so that adds to the legislative schedule, as well. Obviously when you have more on your plate, things just become more complicated. But I think the administration and Congress are hoping that they can walk and chew gum at the same time on this.

WHITFIELD: Rebecca Berg, Margaret Talev, thank you very much to both of you. Appreciate it.

BERG: Thank you.

TALEV: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:50:41] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Two demonstrations under way in Washington, D.C., in the name of racial and gender equality. The march for racial justice and the march for black women are converging on the National Mall now.

Let's go to CNN's Rene Marsh, in Washington.

Rene, what do you see?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, I can tell you we started at Lincoln Park. That is near Capitol Hill. And now, if you just kind of scan around here, you can see the crowds. They have made their way not Justice Department. A little pause in the marching happening right now. All standing outside of the Justice Department. From here, we're going to be going to the National Mall.

Everyone I spoke to here today said they want to challenge the hatred they say they have seen since the election. I spoke to people, asked them what made you come out. I heard over and over again, people brought up Charlottesville. People brought up the repeal of DACA. People also brought up equality for gender rights. Things of that sort.

So I know that once we leave here, the Department of Justice, we'll be headed to the National Mall.

I want to scan around over here.

You know, you're live on CNN. Talk to me about why you're out here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm out here because I'm just expressing in a I'm just tired of the injustice. Same old story over and over again. I'm exercising my right and I'm protesting saying it has to stop now. It's the 21st century. My ancestor that went through this. And I shouldn't have to be going through this.

MARSH: We just came from Lincoln Park. We're now in front of Department of Justice.

What's the message here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I'm hoping that they will see that we are all coming together. This is my first time actually being in a protest where it's different races. I'm used to being in protests where it's all black. Seeing it's just white and Asian people, Indian. They show they support us and understand. It's not just a black thing. It's everybody's thing and we're coming together. That's one thing I'm happy about. That I'm here just to say like we are one. This is not separate. We're together.

MARSH: Thank you so much.

Fred, I've heard that message from so many people out here, that what you saw in Charlottesville is not what America is, and they want to come together to show that this is what America is.

If you do look at the crowd, take a look, you see white, black, old, young, you see women, men. They're all out here and they all are here with the same message, which is America is this, that this is what you see. And so they want to make it very clear that what we saw in places like Charlottesville does not represent the country, Fred. So we're now starting to walk again. We're headed now to the National Mall.

Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rene Marsh, keep us posted, in the nation's capital.

Still ahead, more than a week after the president targeted the NFL, the protests continue on the grid iron today. This time, college players locking arms in a show of unity. What fans have to say about that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:56:50] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. According to a new poll, Americans are sharply divided over whether NFL players taking a knee are doing the right thing to express their views. The majority agree that President Trump did the wrong thing by criticizing those actions.

We go live to Madison, Wisconsin, where our Coy Wire is covering a big college game there.

Coy, the debate over kneeling during the national anthem has gone beyond the NFL. The NBA weighing in, and now all eyes on how college football players and fans are responding to the anthem today. What's happening?

COY WIRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, good to hear you. We want to establish where we are. The University of Wisconsin is rich with American history. See the stadium behind me, built in 1970. This is the one hundredth anniversary. It's the fifth-oldest in the country. If you look over here, it's the oldest part, the stone part, built in the 1920s. But these grounds, the stadium, where these guys are playing right now, was a training ground during the Civil War for soldiers. Over 70,000 soldiers trained here.

So what happened during the game? I was on the field when the national anthem played. Not like in the NFL, where the players are required to be on the field 10 minutes before the kickoff, for the national anthem, it's not like that in college. They're usually in the tunnel or in the locker room while it's being played. So the fans, most were standing with their hands on their heart and many were singing. But when the players finally did come out, something interesting happened with Northwestern. They came out with an American flag and locked arms in a show of solidarity and unity. This is what their head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, said they were going to do. Something interesting happened. Normally, when an opposing team goes into a stadium, they get booed. They were cheers and a sea of red. Northwestern, where their purple, were cheered as they walked out on the field here in front of a sea of Wisconsin fans here in Madison.

WHITFIELD: And then what about the fans? Have people been outspoken, said anything about what they experienced today? WIRE: I went over and talked to some of the folks who were sitting

along the tunnel where the Northwestern players came out carrying the flag. I talked to Kevin, who is a Wisconsin fan. And he was one of those Wisconsin fans cheering for the Northwestern players. He said this is what every football team should do, show unity, show solidarity. So he was impressed.

I wanted to talk to a Northwestern fan. I talked to a guy named Nick. He said he was surprised. He was cheering for his team at first. But then he heard Wisconsin fans around him saying, oh, that's awesome, talking about the display those Northwestern players put on today here in front of Wisconsin fans.

One other thing to note. Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, of Northwestern, he did say, earlier in the week, that next week, when they play at home, they may use a bolder statement during or maybe just before the national anthem. We don't know what this will be, but something to keep an eye on here next week in college football.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coy Wire, Thanks so much.

Still so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. It all starts right now.

[14:00:01] Hello, again. Thank you for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with a shocking string of verbal attacks from President Trump, written attacks, going after Puerto Ricans leaders. Yes, Puerto Rico where more than --