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Outer Bands of Hurricane Hitting Carolina Coast; Florence Grows in Size As It Closes in on Carolina Coast; Trump Falsely Claims 3,000 People Did Not Die in Puerto Rico Hurricanes; Rubio: "Stop the Blame Game and Focus on Recovery". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

An important day it is. Hurricane Florence closing in on the Carolinas. That hurricane force winds now covering, get this, more than 15,000 square miles. Yet somehow, as this monster storm approaches, the president wants you to remember he's great and to blame the Democrats for Hurricane Maria and a death toll he says they fabricated to smear him. We will get to the president's ego and his wild conspiracy theories later.

But we begin where we should, focusing on what, in any normal White House would be priority one, two, and three. That is the urgent threat of Florence. Currently, churning toward millions of Americans. A hurricane at its center with tropical storm winds at its far edges, a swamp, imagine this, wide enough to reach from New York City to Toronto.

Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane but do not mistake less powerful for less dangerous. Listen for a moment here to what a Category 2 sounds like.

What you see there is 23 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Right now, the (INAUDIBLE) wind, top wind speeds is up to 110 miles per hour. Only a small part of this hurricane's force and its story. Forecasters now predicting up to 13 feet of storm surge in some places and the possibility, again, get this, 40 inches of rainfall. Maybe more.

What does that look like? Forty inches of rainfall, enough to overwhelm a large dog and more than enough to lift a man or a car well off the ground. Thirteen feet of storm surge, nobody stands a chance. Federal officials urging residents to listen to them when they say it's going to get really bad and it's going to stay really bad.


BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Your time is running out. The ocean is going to start rising along the coast and in the Back Bay and inland areas and the sound areas within a matter of hours. Your time to get out of those areas and storm surge invasion is coming to a close.

We call them disasters because they break things. The infrastructure is going to break. The power is going to go out, it could go out for a number of days. It could go out for many weeks. It's hard to say at this point.


KING: We're covering this storm with a team of reporters up and down the coast. Let's begin by going straight to Meteorologist Chad Myers, he's at the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, what's the latest forecast for this hurricane, and when do we think the residents in North and South Carolina will begin to feel the real power?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Already cape look out, John just in the past hour, 70 mile per hour gusts. And that's not really enough like the FEMA guy was saying to knock things down, but certainly to get your attention. Our Brian Todd was there and just called me and said, hey, what was that? And I said, yes, it's coming and so is the rainfall, 105 at the core.

North Carolina coast gets the hurricane force winds likely in a couple of hours all through the night. Storm surge, nine to 13 feet. I'll show you what that looks like at Topsail Beach because you're not going to believe what's not sticking out of the water. Rainfall at least two feet, isolated tornados possible. Tornado watches in effect for tonight.

Now we go to South Carolina especially up near Myrtle and Murrell not so much toward Charleston. But the winds come in tomorrow as the storm goes by. Your winds change direction. In fact, you may even see it in Charleston, you may see the water go out of the harbor and then tomorrow come back in. Not like a tsunami, but really very, very low tide tonight and a higher tide tomorrow.

There is the tornado watch box, there is the eye of the storm right now. The pressure of this storm is good enough to get it to be a category three pressure. The good news is, there's not a Category 3 eye, only 105 miles per hour. But that is going to push enough water to make as you said, John, a 13-foot storm surge.

Let me show you what 13-feet looks like at Topsail Beach. If I push 13-feet of water over Topsail Beach and into the inlet and into the bay, yes, we get some dry land still over here, but not so much on the beach side to that. Almost every area here through the marshes will be completely under water. Some houses here, water up some of the estuaries.

But let's go back to the beach side. Here is the beach side and yes, there are some lucky people over here that are still dry, but those are the highest dunes. Anybody in the Back Bay all wet and waves 10 to 15 feet on top of that, knocking things down, John. Disasters break things, as FEMA said. KING: Chad Myers, appreciate that. And folks, please listen. You see a lot of people in the air this morning saying it went from a four to a two, I'm OK. Listen to Chad Myers, listen to your local officials about the water this storm is carrying.

North Carolina are now feeling the effects as Chad said of the outer bands of the hurricane. CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Miguel, what are you seeing there and more importantly, I guess, what are you beginning to feel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are just starting to feel some of those winds off of that massive storm is heading this way.

[12:05:03] But it will be another couple of hours before they hit that 45 mile, 50-hour mark where they will shut the bridge and they will no longer be able to respond to emergency situations on Carolina Beach.

I want to show you exactly what's happening out here right now. We're just after high a tide, the water is already rushing up almost all the way on to the beach. Some of those waves are just massive. Probably in the six, seven foot range right now. And off in the distance, you can see those clouds. That is the very beginning of what's going to be a very, very long storm.

The wind, you know, it starts in gusts and then what you played off the top of the show, it just is a howling wind that does not stop. It will continue at that speed for a very, very long time. What they are most concerned about here is water. We're just off the intercoastal waterway. The Fear River is right behind us. There's a cut, snow's cut that goes right through town.

They expect once that storm surge comes, you have the tide right now, several feet of storm surge. Ten, 20, 30 inches of rain on top of that. This town has a tough time when it normally rains. It is going to be flooded in many areas of this town, and then further inland as that massive bulldozer of water, that storm has no -- that water has no place to go other than up onto land and that's where they're really looking at having serious issues

Sixty-two hundred people live here, most of them have evacuated but there are several. Maybe a hundred, maybe a couple of hundred still in town riding this thing out.


KING: Still in town. Let's hope that bet is a safe one. Miguel Marquez, appreciate the live report there. Keep in touch throughout the day.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

KING: More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate their coastal homes. Many of them driving inland to stay with friends and family. Others, headed to shelters to wait out Florence. CNN's Scott McLean is in an evacuation center, that's in Conway, South Carolina. Scott, what's the mood there. And you're beginning to fill up?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. John, at last count there were 375 people in this shelter. You can be that there are going to be a lot more people coming here as the weather starts to intensify in this area. The big thing for a lot of people is not necessarily the wind, not necessarily the storm surge, but it is the rain that could fall on this area. Maybe up to 20 inches. That could be a big, big problem for people in some lower-lying areas. Others live more towards the coast.

And for some people, this isn't their first hurricane. I have to introduce you to Sandra Lopez, she actually is from Puerto Rico. She survived Hurricane Maria. And Sandra, what was it like when Hurricane Maria was coming through where you're from by amount?

SANDRA LOPEZ, EVACUATED MYRTLE BEACH: It was very like (INAUDIBLE) because I just have four days that I arrived on the island when everything was happening and I was by myself. I passed the hurricane by myself in my house. It's a cement house right there, the construction is most secure. I feel most secure about -- around there.

And here I never thought that I'm going to go have the same situation up here. And right here, the consideration I just have would be at home.



MCLEAN: Yes. So here, you spent winters in Puerto Rico, you spent summers here in Myrtle Beach. And so, what's your biggest fear being here in Myrtle Beach now, a hurricane for the second time in not very long?

LOPEZ: I don't think that I'm going to have a house if the hit -- if the winds hit hard. (INAUDIBLE) I don't know how. You know, I live very close to the shore and -- like two miles from the shore. And that's why I chose this shelter, it was the closest to me.

MCLEAN: Well, Sandra, we are wishing you the best of luck and hopefully, hopefully your mobile home here stays dry and you don't have to go back to your house in Puerto Rico. Thank you for talking to us.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

MCLEAN: So, look John, there's a lot of people who are just like Sandra except at least Sandra has another place to go. Not everybody does. Some people are just scratching their head when I ask them, if you get flooded, if your house is damaged or destroyed, where are you going to go? They don't know.

KING: The uncertainty. Again, appreciate Sandra sharing her time and her perspective. Scott McLean, keep in touch as well.

Joining me on the phone now, Michael Cramer, he's the town manager of Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Michael, forecasters are saying nine to 13 feet perhaps of storm surge in your community. What would that mean for Carolina Beach?

MICHAEL CRAMER, TOWN MANAGER, CAROLINA BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): That would mean that we would have probably about a third of our community under water. We have not only the Atlantic Ocean right next to us, we have the Cape Fear River behind us. And in between, we have a boat base in the sound. And that means that with nine to 13 feet of storm surge, we will have the ocean in our sound touch.

KING: You have decided to stay, I understand, others have evacuated. How many like you have decided to ride this out and what was your calculation?

CRAMER (via telephone): There's a little bit of difference between me and other folks' calculation. Right now, we believe that there's probably about 10 percent of our population has decided to stay.

[12:10:05] That's just a sort of guesstimate.

We have 6,000 residents here in Carolina Beach. We have had a mandatory evacuation since last night at 8:00 and we also have an 8:00 curfew so that we have a 24-hour curfew.

The reason I'm staying is it's part of my job. As town manager, I'm also the emergency management coordinator and like our first responders, we get to stay here for the duration and hunker down so that when the storm passes, we can start providing services to our resident who want to come back.

KING: And what are state officials, federal officials who are trying to understand this storm, what are they telling you your biggest risk is there? It's -- is it the rain, is it the wind, is it sustained flooding?

CRAMER (via telephone): Well, right now, now that the storm has been downgraded to a Category 2, we're not as concerned about the wind, although we could still see wind damage. Our biggest concern is that storm surge and also the rainwater. We're expecting to see 20 to 30 inches of rain during the same period where we have nine to 13 foot storm surges.

Honestly, if we actually get that, we will have an awful hard time getting that much rainwater off of the community, let alone take care of the storm surges.

KING: And sir, these things often don't play out exactly as predicted, but what is your best guess? You say about 10 percent of the people, your guesstimate have stayed. What is your best guess for when you're be able to tell those who left, it's safe to come back? Are we talking days, are we talking a week or more? CRAMER (via telephone): I'm honestly looking at more than a week because with Category 2 winds, we will have downed power lines with the wash over and the storm surge. We'll have at least four feet of sand on various parts of our roadways. That, we'll just make it so we cannot get first responders in there until we clear it. And that's going to take time.

KING: Michael Cramer, we will stay in touch throughout this. We wish you the best of luck and safety and please keep in touch with our teams. A, to keep us posted in what's happening. B, if you need anything, please see if we can help there. Michael Cramer, appreciate there from Carolina Beach.

Before we take a break, a quick look at this. Street flooding as Florence heads towards the Carolina shore. The person who shot this photo and this video said, he's decided not to evacuate and stock up on enough food and water he believes to ride out the storm.

Up next for us, the president, even as a storm approaches the coast, he pushes a new Twitter conspiracy theory about a previous hurricane.


[12:16:55] KING: Welcome back. Live pictures there of Buxton, North Carolina. That is on the outer banks as we wait and watch as Florence beginning to show its impact on the Carolinas' coast and it is going to get worse.

Now the president of the United States today as the storm approaches is stroking his ego and peddling lies of conspiracy theories. This, as his staff insists he is focused on staying up to speed on that monstrous storm now lurking in the Atlantic. The best evidence though of the president's focus as always is his twitter feed. There, he says he's already getting great reviews for Florence but his focus is much more on trying to rewrite the painful history of Hurricane Maria.

Maria left nearly 3,000 dead in Puerto Rico. It is a humanitarian disgrace and stain on every level of government. But instead of taking his share of the responsibility, this from the president.

"Three thousand people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island after the storm had hit, they had anywhere from six to 18 deaths. As time went by it didn't go up by much, then a long time later they started to report really large numbers like 3,000."

This was done, the president goes on to say, this was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason like old age, just add them on to the list. That politics. I love Puerto Rico.

That is the president's tweet today. Obviously, it is generating a lot of reaction here in Washington and especially in Puerto Rico. CNN's Leyla Santiago who has done some groundbreaking reporting on Maria in the aftermath is in Puerto Rico. Leyla, what are the people of Puerto Rico, the government of Puerto Rico, leaders, how are they responding to this?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, so let's start with the governor, he just was on Facebook live talking about this. And he said basically the people of Puerto Rico do not deserve to have their pain questioned. And that's what he felt was happening with President Trump's sweet.

The mayor of San Juan is calling this appalling, calling this denial and saying people died on your watch, President Trump. I just spoke to a gentleman here in Puerto Rico who said he woke up to this tweet and it ruined his day.

So here is what the president is not taking into account. When he talks about those low numbers, he's talking about the direct deaths, the people who died as a result of flooding and they drowned or as a result of a tree coming down. Those direct hits on September 20th.

What he's not taking into account are the indirect deaths, the people who died because of the conditions on this island that lingered for months after Hurricane Maria. I'm talking about the lack of power. I always talk about the case of Natalio Rodriguez from Maunabo. In the middle of the night, he ran out of diesel for his generator, his breathing machine stop, he died. That was in January.

The people who couldn't get to dialysis centers for treatment. The people who couldn't get healthcare because roads were blocked. Conditions that lasted not weeks, but months. The power authority here didn't say mission complete on restoration until November.

[12:20:02] So, it's those painful deaths that lingered for months after Hurricane Maria -- or excuse me, those painful conditions that led to the deaths that people are so upset about. That's where the number 3,000 comes from.

KING: Leyla Santiago in San Juan, appreciate that. And not only the non-facts of this, I was about to say the facts of this, not only the non-facts of this but the timing of this is what makes it so part of the conversation on a day we should be focused on the actual storm coming.

Now, with me here on the studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Michael Shear with the New York Times, and Mary Katharine Ham with the Federalist.

We could some day, when we get this out of the way, when it's snowing and when there's no threat of hurricanes, if we wanted to have a conference at a think-tank to talk about how to count hurricane deaths and direct deaths and indirect deaths, OK. There is a monster storm approaching the United States of America, and the president of the United States is spending his time trying to re-litigate a previous storm where everybody, everybody at every level of government should feel ashamed and embarrassed by what happened in Puerto Rico. Everybody from previous administrations should be feel ashamed and embarrassed that Puerto Rico was essentially left defenseless because it's infrastructure was so weak. Why? Why it isn't about this president and his ego where he was to say, I'm great, damn it and that's it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is never in President Trump's mind a time for criticism. Even if it's criticism that isn't entirely focused on him. I think that the issue in Puerto Rico, everyone will admit was a top down, all the way through the process that failed those people. But the missing piece for him in moments like this is always, what will my words and my statements about this situation mean to the people who are hurting, the people who lost relatives, the people who still are struggling to get back on their feet.

There's never any talk of that. There's never any thought of that. And I think that's what make this tweet -- I mean, in addition to all the factual inaccuracies, that's what makes it so alarming because it makes -- it lays claim that President Trump is not thinking about that when he should be. Even if he doesn't want to take all the blame, maybe, you could say it's fair for him not to take all the blame. I don't nobody is saying he needs to, but he's unwilling to take any of the responsibility.

And that's literally the job of the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States. These were Americans.

KING: It is the job. These are Americans and they're still in need, and there will be Americans in the Carolinas, perhaps Georgia or perhaps Virginia who in a few days are going to need a president. And they would like to know that he's actually focused on what's happening now, not re-litigating past grievances with the Democrats and the conspiracy theory.

Another part of this, we'll get more into this a bit later in the program is the timing not only as Florence is approaching. Republicans are trying to navigate a very difficult political environment. Here's the speaker of the House a short time ago, yet again forced to answer a question. The leader of the Republicans is forced to answer a question. The president is tweeting mad, fact-less conspiracy theories. What say you?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The casualties don't make a person look bad. That's not -- so I had no reason to dispute these numbers. You couldn't get to people for a long time on the island because roads were washed out, power was gone. And the casualties mounted for a long time.

So I have no reason to dispute those numbers. This was a devastating storm that hit an isolated island and that's really no one's fault. That is just what happened.


KING: You can argue it's no one's fault, you can argue it's everyone's fault, but that at least is a reasonable answer. Not what the president did. MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think, you know, part of what's so concerning about what the president did was that it doesn't make sense on two levels. On the political level, it doesn't make any sense because you would think that if you were sort of concerned about politics, North Carolina is an important state, South Carolina is an important state, there's places that you, you know, that you want a message to be entirely about the people who are facing this current storm now.

And on the actual, like humanity of it, you know, there a lot of people who are rushing in into the face of danger to protect people. It's your FEMA people, your -- the National Guard, the police and everybody else. And the fact is that you don't want to be sending those folks the message that you as the head of government are focus on something else. You want to be -- everybody to be a hundred percent focused on the danger that it is about to hit the coast.

KING: How is -- why is this so hard for the president? Let me ask it this way. We're having this conversation because of his tweets this morning. I would prefer not to be having this conversation but you he's tweeting out things that are simply not true. He's proving his focus, he's actually Bob Woodward's best book reviewer. The whole book says, we have an erratic president who can't focus on things and every day he tweets proof. Bob Woodward is right.

Now Marco Rubio tweets this. "These days even tragedy becomes political. Three thousand more Americans -- three times more Americans died in Puerto Rico after the hurricane than during comparable periods before. Both fed and local governments made mistakes. We only need to stop the blame game and focus on recovery helping those who are still hurting and fixing the mistakes."

Bang! A polite proper way to do it, we all take responsibility.

[12:25:02] You run for office, you want to brag that the economy is all yours. Well, guess what, when mistakes happen, that's yours too. You're the president, it doesn't mean you're horrible. It doesn't mean you're -- but it means you're responsible. Why is that so hard for him?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Because he is interested in defending himself. And he is feeling like people want him to take full responsibility for this when I don't think that's the ask from almost anyone.

A couple of simple rules, you do not dunk on or deny hurricane victims when the hurricane is coming ashore. You don't take focus off of fixing the problems, learning from mistakes and preparing for what is about to hit the shores. And three, especially as conservatives which, you know, have noted Donald Trump isn't really all the time, you should encourage government to criticize itself and to learn from its mistakes. And FEMA has done that, the government has done studied this effort and even though it was large, it was inefficient and didn't help people in the proper ways.

Later, I think you're right. There is a conversation worth having about the fact that there is no standard for figuring out natural disaster death tolls. And I found that sort of surprising after Katrina, it was two months out that they did it. After the government in Puerto Rico did four months out after they were criticized for keeping it artificially low the number and then the GW say it's six months out. So -- like there is an interesting difference here, but that's a conversation for perhaps -- although I would like to (INAUDIBLE) to know like what methodology they're using on the ground in North Carolina right now.

KING: The accountability is critical. The accountability is critical. This is not the time to have the debate about previous hurricane or about how to do this. But, we'll leave it there for now.

Up next here, for us, a brand-new CNN poll this hour provides more evidence the mid-term odds are increasingly stacked against the Republican Party.