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Hurricane Michael on Track to Hit Florida as Category 3 Storm; U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Resigns. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 9, 2018 - 17:00   ET


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[17:00:06] Thanks so much for watching. Stay with CNN programming. You've been watching "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Fast and furious. Hurricane Michael growing stronger and barreling toward the Florida coast. Twenty million people are under storm warnings and watches and millions more could be impacted. We have a new forecast breaking this hour.

Haley's comment. In a surprise announcement, President Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, resigns. But she's dismissing speculation she might run for the White House in 2020. Why is the president giving her special treatment?

Gender gap. Just weeks before the vote, new CNN polling shows a huge gender gap, with women breaking in large numbers for Democrats. Will female voters decide this year's midterm election?

And speak now. Taylor Swift speaks out for the first time on politics, backing the Democrat running for the Senate in Tennessee, as Kanye West is heading to the White House, backing the president. What is the end game for two musicians known all too well for their bad blood?

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

ANNOUNCER: this is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER; We're following breaking news. Hurricane Michael now a major Category 3 storm, packing life-threatening storm surge, killer winds and heavy rainfall, all -- all -- heading right now for the Florida Panhandle.

Michael is expected to make landfall tomorrow as a Category 3 storm. This is the first major hurricane to strike the region in more than a decade and the strongest storm to hit the continental United States this year. And a new forecast has just been released by the National Hurricane Center.

Congressman Joaquin Castro is standing by to join us live this hour. Our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by. First, let's go straight to CNN meteorologist Tom Sater. He's

tracking the storm for us.

Tom, the new forecast just coming into the CNN Weather Center. What does it say?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just moments ago, Wolf, the National Hurricane Center has lifted now the status of the storm to a Category 3. And it's a mid-level Category 3. We're only ten miles per hour away from a Category 4 status, and we do have that time and space still available. But let's not concentrate on that.

This is going to really impact northern Florida, Georgia, through the Carolinas, with more force than we had with Florence, completely different storms. Florence was all about water, the surge and the rainfall. But right now we've seen twice, in the last 24 hours, some rapid intensification. Yesterday 40-mile-per-hour sustained winds, up to 85 last night. Now we're at 120, and we've got gusts up to 150 miles per hour. We're 295 miles south of Panama City.

The National Hurricane Center picks and chooses their wording very carefully, Wolf. Yesterday they talked about life-threatening inundation. And this is going to happen. Also today, they used the word "historic." Again, they pick and choose words very carefully. Here's why.

We have had, since 1950, only three major hurricanes make landfall in the Panhandle of Florida. You've got to go back to 1975; it was Eloise. Twenty years later in '95, it was Opal. Ten years later, 2005, Dennis. But all three of those were West of Panama City. So this will be historic, still has its eyes on Panama City. And the surge toward the east.

So this is why this life-threatening situation is going to be upon us, and it still looks like landfall will be sometime mid-afternoon. Let's say 3, 5, maybe even 6 p.m.

But the warnings lift well into southern parts of Georgia. The tropical-storm-force warnings, those go into actually South Carolina.

But, again, the surge from Panama City to Apalachicola as high could be as 8 to 9 feet. We've got 8 to 12 feet over toward the Suwanee River. This is the time of year where the tides are highest. They're called the king tides, and they keep that, of course, in their thinking when they put out the warnings.

Here is now the official track. Has not changed much. We still have Michael moving due north at 12 miles per hour. That, Wolf, remains the same. And it still looks like our impact area will be pretty much at Panama City, Panama Beach. That includes Destiny and Ft. Walton Beach, but really to the east now, where that storm surge on that deadly right-end quadrant here on that eastern edge will flood the Big Bend area.

Now, around the Apalachicola area, it's a nature coast, which is good news. That can take a little bit of the brunt of this, because there's not much in the way of population there. But the heavy rains and these winds will stay intact well inland, could knock out power over 1 million people, and it stays strong as we go through the Carolinas.

[17:05:11] So, again, it will lose some strength, but the core of these winds, Wolf, are going to be strong enough to knock out a lot of trees from Panama City to Tallahassee, up into southern Georgia, and the streak of that rainfall will continue through the Carolinas. The last place they need it.

BLITZER: It wasn't just a day or so ago, it was a tropical storm. Then a Category 1, Category 2. Now it's a Category 3, and as you say, it's totally possible, given the warm waters of the Gulf, it could wind up even a Category 4, although right now that doesn't look to be the case.

Did all of this creep up on the experts very quickly? Because I'm a little worried that folks didn't have enough advance warning to get out of town.

SATER: Well, last Thursday, Wolf, we noticed this cluster of storms in the Yucatan. It had only a 20 percent chance of developing. So the meteorological world was watching it.

But really, when it started to take an organization, then, of course, everybody finds out about it. It's not like an Atlantic storm, where we have a week's notice. So preparations have to be done today, or even by tomorrow morning. But evacuations are taking place even as we speak.

BLITZER: I hope people heed those evacuation orders. Our meteorologist, Tom Sater, thank you. We'll get back to you soon.

I want to go quickly to our own Brian Todd. He's joining us from Destin, Florida. That's a community that's especially vulnerable right now to this coming monster storm.

What are you seeing there now? What do you anticipate, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just heard you and Tom talking about how fast this storm formed and how fast it's moving. That is really worrisome to people here.

I'm standing in between two critical pieces of infrastructure right now. This is Noriega Point. It's a massive berm that was built many, many years ago, just to protect from -- you know, from hurricanes coming inland and hitting Destin Beach. That's about to be put to the test.

Also, you've got over here, this is a key evacuation route. This is the Destin Bridge going West out of Destin. This is Route 98. I've talked to officials here here who have said that they have told everybody on the south side of this bridge, of this highway, which means everybody over here, in the low-lying areas, they've told everyone there to get out. But right now, Wolf, it's getting to be pretty much too late, because the first effects of this storm are just a few hours away.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, after brushing past Cuba with heavy rains and strong winds, a strengthening Hurricane Michael is now plowing toward Florida. The Panhandle is bracing for impact.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state.

TODD: Water along coastal inlets and roadways is already rising. Last-minute preparations: sandbagging doorways, boarding up buildings, clearing the beaches, gassing up cars, and buying up supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We opened at 6. By 6:15, we sold out of every generator we had.

TODD: This couple even moved up their wedding by a day, not waiting until tomorrow to tie the knot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We bumped it up to Tuesday night, sunset, and then we bumped it up to this morning.

TODD: More than 20 million people are under a hurricane or tropical storm watch or warning across five states. Authorities declaring coastal evacuations, preparing shelters and asking residents in harm's way to get ready.

SCOTT: You've got to take care of yourself. Three days of food. Three days of water. Have your medicine. Know your evacuation route. You know, make sure you have fuel in the gas tanks.

TODD: On the Mid Bay Bridge, leaving the Gulf Coast at Destin, outbound traffic is slow, but steady. Destin's mayor says his biggest concern is storm surge.

(on camera): What's the biggest mistake people make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest mistake is what the police department, the fire department hates the most is people going out during the storm. You know, they want to be sight seers. That curiosity makes people make bad decisions.


TODD: Now, in just a few hours, the winds are going to start to pick up. We're told that as soon as winds get to a sustained strength of 39 miles an hour, this bridge and every other bridge around here is going to close. So if you're going to get out, you've got it get out quickly.

For the people who want to stay here, Wolf, authorities here are telling us to get the word out not to call first responders during the height of the storm, because they cannot get to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, we'll get back to you soon. Brian Todd reporting.

The president has approved a federal emergency declaration ahead of Hurricane Michael's arrival.

And a few minutes ago, he addressed speculation he actually may name his daughter Ivanka to replace United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who unexpectedly announced her resignation today.

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

Jim, this caught almost everyone off-guard.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, Wolf. And the White House is already worse on a replacement for Nikki Haley. As you said, President Trump is talking up the prospects of one contender, his daughter, Ivanka. The president said he couldn't think of anyone more competent for the position. That's what he said to reporters earlier this afternoon.

And as for Haley's departure, a source tells CNN Haley did not want to leave the administration after the midterm election, should the GOP lose the House, I'm told. She did not want to look like she was abandoning the president if the Democrats rout the Republicans in the midterms.


[17:10:05] ACOSTA (voice-over): At a time when the White House is struggling with female voters, a major loss for President Trump, as United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration, is stepping down.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We hate to lose -- hopefully, you'll be coming back at some point. But you are just -- maybe a different capacity. You can have your pick. But I just want to let you know. So at the end of the year, Nikki will be leaving. And we will be in constant touch.

TODD: Haley wanted to make one thing clear: She's not leaving to pursue her own political ambitions.

NIKKI HALEY, OUTGOING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: And I will say this. For all of you that are going to ask about 2020, no, I am not running for 2020. I can promise you what I'll be doing is campaigning for this one. So I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.

ACOSTA: But read between the lines, and there could be a sign of things to come, as Haley praised members of the Trump family, Ivanka and Jared Kushner.

HALEY: I can't say enough good things about Jared and Ivanka. Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands. And Ivanka has been just a great friend. And they do a lot of things behind the scenes that I wish more people knew about. Because we're a better country because they're in this administration. ACOSTA: CNN has learned Ivanka's name has surfaced in discussions

about Haley's replacement, but when told about the internal speculation, a source said Ivanka laughed. That didn't stop the president from engaging in that speculation later in the day.

TRUMP: I've heard Ivanka. I've heard how good would Ivanka be? The people that know, it's nothing to do with nepotism. But I want to tell you, the people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But, you know, I'd then be accused of nepotism, if you can believe it, right?

ACOSTA: There were more tea leaves earlier in the day, when the president appeared to set a high bar for the next U.N. ambassador, saying Haley had made the job more glamorous.

TRUMP: We have a number of people that would very much like to do it. It's a great position. And Nikki realizes it. She's -- I think she's helped make it a much better position, if you want to know the truth. I think it's become maybe a more glamorous position than it was two years ago.

ACOSTA: The glowing praise is a far cry from the jabs they were exchanging during the campaign, when Mr. Trump tweeted, "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley," and she responded, "Bless your heart."

(on camera): Do you believe Nikki Haley when she says she doesn't want to run for president in 2020? You guys used to clash with one another.

TRUMP: I didn't know her. I mean, she supported somebody in the primary. It turned out very well for me. She respected him. And after that, we got along, as you would say, very well.

ACOSTA (voice-over): There are also questions about the timing of Haley's departure, as her letter of resignation was dated last week when she wrote, "As a businessman, I expect you will appreciate my sense that returning from government to the private sector is not a step down, but a step up."

But just yesterday, the government watchdog crew raised questions about flights on private planes Haley took last year, writing, "In this case, Ambassador Haley's relationships with these individuals appear to have significant political and professional components."


ACOSTA: Now President Trump says he'll select his new U.N. ambassador in the next few weeks. Besides Ivanka Trump, former deputy national security advisor Dina Powell, and ambassador to Germany Richard Grinnel, are both being discussed as possible replacements.

But Wolf, when you hear the president talking about how his daughter could be dynamite, it's hard to imagine at this point how anybody could get in the way of Ivanka Trump at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's get some more on Nikki Haley's surprise resignation. Our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is over at the State Department for us.

So Michelle, what are you learning about who may replace Nikki Haley?

MICHELL KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you heard the president say he's considering a number of people. And we know one of them is someone who's also at the very top of the list of multiple sources today, Dina Powell. The president's former deputy national security adviser, she was heavily involved in Middle East policy.

In fact, one senior diplomatic source tells us tonight that they feel she has a very, very good shot at this job. But that's if she's willing to take it. And that's a big question.

Wasn't so long ago, she left the administration ready to go back into the private sector in finance at Goldman Sachs. She seems very happy there, according to sources. So that's a big question. Would she be willing to rejoin the administration? And in this very demanding role that she left partially to spend more time with her family.

But that other name, of course, is what we were just talking about, the president's own daughter, Ivanka Trump. You hear her [SIC] use the words "incredible" and "dynamite" to describe her as a potential candidate. But in the same breath, he also foreshadowed that this could be a tough pick politically.

It was just last year, remember, she raised eyebrows when she filled in for the president, even just briefly, at a meeting at the G-20 in Germany. She just sat down and took a seat for a little while. But it was at the table with world leaders. That drew criticism and questions, and also sarcasm.

But she's been heavily involved in foreign policy, wanting to get involved. Remember toward the beginning of the administration, she went on a trip by herself as the headliner for the administration to India. And the theme was women's empowerment.

[17:15:12] But then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn't like that at all. Rubbed him the wrong way. He didn't send any of his top people here at the State Department to support her, and a short time after that, he was fired by tweet.

Now, she laughed off the suggestion today. So we'll see what happens. But we know the president would likely like somebody who's going to be just as big and forceful a supporter of his foreign policy as Nikki Haley has been. But not too much.

I mean, we've seen that work for Haley sometimes and not work so well other times.

This person also needs to get along well now with the new sometimes bombastic national security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is the president's right-hand guy. We're hearing from a senior diplomatic source tonight, too, that lately, there has been some tension between Haley and Pompeo. She hasn't liked some of the things that Bolton has said. That could have gone into her decision today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget: whoever the president nominates has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Michelle Kosinski, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is joining us. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Is there anyone in particular you'd like to see the president pick to fill the role of U.S. ambassador to the U.N.?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: I don't know that he'll take my suggestions. But I think he should pick a seasoned diplomat, somebody who is going to go over there and will be able to have good relationships at the U.N. and also have good relationships with folks in Washington. Somebody, perhaps, like Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who is a former senator from Texas for quite a while and now serves as ambassador to NATO for the president. If I was in the president's shoes, that's somebody I would seriously consider.

BLITZER: The president also just said no one in the world would be more competent in the role as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. than his own daughter, Ivanka Trump. What do you think of that possibility?

CASTRO: Well, I know that obviously, as a father, he thinks very highly of his daughter. And, you know, with all respect to Ivanka Trump, I think that, because of the demanding challenges for the United States in the world and specifically at the United Nations, he really ought to go with somebody who has diplomatic experience and can hit the ground running when they go to the U.N. And I wouldn't pick somebody right now who's going to train up into the job, and that includes his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

BLITZER: Nikki Haley was relatively outspoken at the United Nations on human rights issues. Is that something you'd like to see from the next U.S. ambassador?

CASTRO: Absolutely. I think what you see going on in the world right now is a lot of authoritarian figures, whether it's Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte and others, feel like nobody is minding the shop; feel like the United States has abdicated its role as a nation that is watching what is going on in terms of human rights.

So whoever goes in there needs to go in there and be very strong on human rights.

And it's -- it's also noteworthy that Nikki Haley had a very difficult job. On any controversial issue of foreign policy, there were often two or three or four conflicting answers or positions that you would get out of the administration. And this was also a time where over the last two years, basically, of this president's term, the United States very much pulled back from the world and is seen -- its standing in the world has diminished because of that.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts, while I have you, Congressman. You're on the Intelligence Committee. A "New York Times" report that suggests the former Trump deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, who's now cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, seriously considered enlisting the services of an Israeli intelligence firm --


BLITZER: -- that promised to create fake online identities, use social media manipulation to help Donald Trump defeat his political opponents. First Republican political opponents and then Hillary Clinton.

What are your thoughts on this new report?

CASTRO: Well, what's so striking is that the proposal that was put forward, obviously, based on the reporting, is similar to what the Russians ended up doing. And the fact that a man associated with this firm, the Psy (ph) group, was ultimately paid about $2 million by a Trump associate is also very striking.

So I believe that, you know, basically, Bob Mueller still has many different leads that he's following, and I don't think we've seen the end of the indictments and other legal troubles for folks who are associated with the Trump campaign.

CASTRO: Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, more on the surprise sudden resignation of U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador Nikki Haley. Were top officials caught off- guard?

And the president says he'd be accused of nepotism if he released Nikki Haley, with his daughter, Ivanka Trump. But he didn't rule it out.


[17:24:38] BLITZER: Our breaking news. Leaving the White House for a political rally just a little while ago, President Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, would be incredible as a successor to Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But he's concerned about being accused of nepotism.

Even though Haley will stay on the job for the rest of the year, her abrupt resignation today raises plenty of questions. Let's talk about it with our experts.

And Gloria Borger, what do we know about the timing of this sudden announcement today? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know very

much, beyond the fact that people were surprised, including Bolton and Pompeo and lots of people inside the White House.

And what this leads me to believe is that this is something that Nikki Haley decided to do -- and we've done some reporting on this -- because not only for personal reasons, but I think she felt she was losing a bit of clout as a U.N. ambassador. When Tillerson had been secretary of state, the president depended on her an awful lot. When Tillerson left and Pompeo came in, the president is very close to Pompeo. I think she felt her clout kind of decreasing. She felt this was a good time.

And maybe she wanted to get out in front of all the people who are going to leave or get fired after the midterm elections, and sort of separate herself that way. So that's -- that explains the timing to me a little bit.

BLITZER: Bianna, what does it say to you that the United Nations says the U.N. secretary-general was not, quote, "forewarned" of this decision?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a surprise to everybody, apparently, Wolf. John Kelly apparently didn't know. Vice President Pence didn't know, as well.

Look, President Trump -- and let's take him at his word -- said that he and Nikki Haley spoke about this six months ago. And what's interesting about this relationship, if, in fact, that's true, is that among all of his relationship, in particular his relationships with women that work with him, there is -- you see a level of respect, a mutual respect that he has towards her. She at times has spoken out against some of the policies and some of the things that president has said, specifically with regards to Russia. And you didn't see the backlash that you would sometimes expect from this president. Even today in the Oval Office, there was a level of respect and admiration between the two.

This is an administration where there are few secrets, if any, that are able to be kept for this long and for nothing to have been leaked. This is -- this is a stunner in that sense, from that perspective. And so maybe it is a compilation of multiple issues.

I think Gloria is right. I think that her relationship with Bolton has been dicey at best. I think she, at times, may have felt marginalized. And also this is a woman who served in public service for many years and may, in fact, just need to take some time out, not only to spend time with her family, but also to make some money, as well.

BLITZER: That's a good point, too. Rebecca Berg, I want you to listen to what the president said when he was asked about these reports out there that he's thinking of asking Ivanka Trump, his daughter, to replace Nikki Haley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I think Ivanka would be incredible. That doesn't mean -- you know, I'd pick her, because you would be accused of nepotism. Even though I'm not sure there's anybody more competent in the world.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No one more competent in the world, Wolf. Well, I mean, that says it all.

But there are a number of reasons, in addition to the nepotism question, that Ivanka being nominated for this position would be extremely complicated, to say the least.

She would have to go through a very challenging, perhaps heated confirmation process. She would have to open up her finances to scrutiny by senators. And, of course, there would be this question of nepotism. What has Ivanka Trump done to qualify her to be an ambassador representing the United Nations [SIC] to foreign countries? I'm not sure what her answer would be, except the few months that she spent working alongside her father in the White House.

BLITZER: David, what do you think?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course it's nepotism. But I don't think the president sees this as a deep policy-making role. I think he sees it as who can interface best with other diplomats, and I think he has confidence in his daughter to do just that.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're following. We're getting new information right now that the suspects in that nerve agent poisoning of a Russian ex-spy, a new report says one of the suspects is a doctor who was decorated by Vladimir Putin.

And later, one of music's most notorious feuds gets political as Taylor Swift and Kanye West choose different sides.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our political experts.

[17:33:43] Gloria, it looks like they're watching us over at the White House, Ivanka Trump specifically, our discussion on whether or not she would become the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

She just tweeted this, and there you see it up on the screen: "It is an honor to serve in the White House, alongside so many great colleagues, and I know that the president will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me."


BLITZER: So it didn't take very long for her to say, "You know, it's not happening," even though the president just a little while ago said, "I'm not sure there's anybody more competent in the world." GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think she was listening

to her father say that. And didn't want to get people off on the wrong track. Although, as Rebecca said, I -- it's a non-start. It was always a nonstarter. How would you open yourself up to financial disclosure, her business with the Trump Organization, during a confirmation process? That was never going to happen.

BLITZER: Did you -- were you surprised, Bianna, about how quickly she did respond to her dad?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It's a smart thing to do. I mean, if it's not the case, and if she's not under consideration, then why waste an entire 24-hour news cycle debating over the fact?

I think this seemed like a surprise, in and of itself, with Nikki Haley leaving and more surprises and speculation, I don't know how that would benefit the administration. There are plenty, as you heard from Congressman Castro, there are plenty of qualified people out there who could serve in the role. Dina Powell, obviously, her name is being thrown around. There are other people who have much more experience in this field.

[17:35:16] So I think it's better to put this to rest now and maybe start speculating, who knows, about something else.

BLITZER: I think that's -- that's what she has just done.

You know, Rebecca, a new CNN poll -- and I'll put some numbers up on the screen -- among likely voters, shows that women support for Democratic candidates remains extremely strong. Look at this: 63 percent of women say they will vote for the Democrat, while only one- third of women plan to vote for the Republican.

What does that tell you?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if that gender gap holds, that would be a historic gender gap for any election. So that is really one of the big stories, the big themes of this election year: the energy that you're seeing for Democrats among women.

And that's also manifesting itself in women candidates running in record numbers, as we have seen across the country.

But if we're sitting here on election night at this table, having this discussion, watching the results come in, and Democrats are having a really good night, possibly a wave election, I think we're going to look back and say that the energy among women was one of the really big stories.

BORGER: And women are more enthusiastic about voting than men this time around. So not only is there a gender chasm, but women are saying -- 57 percent of women, according to our poll, are enthusiastic about going out and voting. And I think that's a -- that's a really big difference.

BLITZER: So are women, David, going to decide this election?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So I agree completely with Rebecca, that if there is a blue wave, we will look back on exactly those numbers you just put up, and point to women's enthusiasm.

On the other hand, I do think Democrats have to remember that it has been since 2006 since their voters came out strong in a midterm election. The president, depending on which poll you look at, is in the low to mid-40s in approval, which is basically where he's been throughout his presidency. The economy is good, and in the last two midterms, Democratic voters have disappointed Democratic elected officials.

So I don't think it's a time to just say definitively, this is going to be a blue wave. Democrats will gain seats in the House.

GOLODRYGA: And also, in an era where the news cycle changes every two hours, it seems, you'd think normally, four weeks is a short period of time. Who knows what we'll be talking about in three weeks from today?

So while a lot of this focus has been on Kavanaugh, and I would expect a lot of it to remain, who knows what the conversation in the country is going to be like in just three, three and a half, four weeks' time?

BERG: But it's remarkable to me how consistent the trends and the feeling of the country has been over the past six months to one year, even as we've seen so many different things happening, the news cycle shifting every 24 hours to some new controversy. But if you look at the generic ballot over the last year, if you look at the gender split over the last year, it's been remarkably consistent.

And you mentioned, David, 2006 as a very good year for Democrats. One of the things that stands out to me is that the generic ballot that we're seeing right now is pretty similar to what we saw in 2006 in the lead-up to that midterm election.

BLITZER: You hear the president at all of his political rallies say that the Republicans are -- they're doing great with the women right now. There's no problem at all.

BORGER: Well, right. I mean, they are doing well with their -- with women who are in their base of support.

BERG: With white women.

BORGER: With white women, non-college-educated, et cetera. But -- and he talks about a red wave. I think he's the only one who's actually predicting a red wave.

But I -- you know, I agree with David. I think it's way too early. Four weeks is an eternity before this election. And it's way too early for anyone to predict that there is going to be this blue wave, because things happen.

And you saw what happened with Kavanaugh. I mean, you saw how -- how polarized the country became with Kavanaugh, and I would argue, that will end up helping -- helping Republicans in Senate races. So, you know, it may -- it may help Democrats in the House, but it may help Republicans in the Senate. So we just don't know yet.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stick around. There's more news. Did Vladimir Putin send two of his top spies, including a doctor, to poison an ex-spy who was living in Great Britain?


[17:43:58] BLITZER: Tonight, a British investigative website claims to have uncovered the real identity of another of the men accused of poisoning an ex-Russian spy and his daughter this year, using a military-grade nerve agent.

Let's go to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He's joining us live from Moscow right now.

Fred, tell us more about how the Russians are reacting.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russians are pretty unnerved by this case. Another major case of the identity of a Russian spy apparently becoming exposed. And the Kremlin today said they don't even want to comment on these allegations any more. And all of this, Wolf, is now also having an effect on the standing of Vladimir Putin.

Here's what we learned.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russian leader Vladimir Putin receiving fresh apples for his 66th birthday. And then some rotten news. Another alleged agent of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, exposed.

ELIOT HIGGINS, FOUNDER, BELLINGCAT: Once we have his name, we were able to get his identity, documents, had a photograph of his -- obviously, the same person.

PLEITGEN: U.K. investigative group Bellingcat now naming the second man who allegedly poisoned a former Russian double agent in England earlier this year as Alexander Mishkin, publishing what appears to be a passport scan and more.

HIGGINS: We've even discovered the -- one of the Hero of Russia awards, so a huge amount of information about him confirming his identity.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): It's the newest in a series of embarrassing public black eyes for the GRU. Last week, the Netherlands revealing a busted Russian plot to spy on the world chemical weapons watchdog and the U.S. indicting seven alleged GRU spies.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) PLEITGEN (voice-over): While Russian officials publicly laughed the allegations off even on state-run T.V, evidence that not everyone is buying the official line. An opposition figure attacking the host for cozying up to the Kremlin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You are not acting as a free, independent journalist but like a person who pushes the state's agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You have to present the state's position but you think that's shabby and disgusting. If someone represents the position of the government, you are not going to talk to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Journalists have to ask inconvenient questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Don't tell us what we have to do.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While social media has been abuzz with posts ridiculing the GRU, some experts caution Russia's intelligence agencies remain both strong and active even though their recent blunders may be affecting Vladimir Putin's standing at home.


PLEITGEN: And his standing certainly is affected, Wolf. His popularity ratings are down. His trust ratings are down.

And you know, Wolf, one of the things that's always made up the air of Vladimir Putin's invincibility has been the fact that he's been a strong leader and has been in command of a strong intelligence service and military.

Now, some of that certainly taking a hit and it is becoming a problem for Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very interesting. All right, Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you.

Coming up. One of the longest-running feuds in music picks up a political edge. Taylor Swift and Kanye West, they're picking different sides. Will their fans follow suit on Election Day?


[17:51:46] BLITZER: Tonight, we're not only following the political and cultural aftershocks of singer Taylor Swift's surprise endorsement of Democratic candidates in Tennessee. We're anticipating a second social media earthquake when Swift's music industry nemesis, Kanye West, visits President Trump at the White House later this week.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here. Bring us up to speed, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In pop culture terms, this is a clash of titans. In political terms, well, who knows?


TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER: -- do. Look what you just made me do. Look what you just made do.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Firing a pop culture rocket into the political world, Taylor Swift is telling her 112 million Instagram followers she will not vote for the Republican Senate candidate in her home state because of Marsha Blackburn's stance on legislation involving domestic violence protection, gay rights, and more.

Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. These are not my Tennessee values.

After the post and Swift's pledge to back a pair of Democrats, one activist group said there was a huge surge in voter registration. It's not clear which party is benefitting but, at the White House, President Trump --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's say that I like Taylor's music about 25 percent less now, OK?

KANYE WEST, SINGER: I'm a real freak. I need a real freak, yes. I'm a real freak --

FOREMAN (voice-over): And Trump is getting a pop star push of his own. Kanye West slapped on a Make America Great Again hat and launched into a post-show rant at "Saturday Night Live."

WEST: There's so many times I talk to, like, a White person about this. And they say, how could you like Trump, he's racist?

Well, if I'm concerned about racism, I would have moved out of America a long time ago.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump was delighted.

TRUMP: And you saw that the other night with Kanye West. How good was Kanye West?


FOREMAN (voice-over): West has attracted headlines before by supporting Trump. His wife, Kim Kardashian, has also met the President, asking for and getting clemency for a 63-year-old woman serving life on a nonviolent drug conviction.

And this week at the White House, West will join the President for lunch and a chat about the criminal justice system.

TRUMP: He's been a terrific guy, you know. He loves what we're doing for African-American jobs, for so many different things.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Coincidence or a counter-punch aimed at Swift, who knows? SWIFT: So take a look at what you've done because, baby, now we got

bad blood.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Bad blood has raged between the two entertainers ever since West jumped on stage during the 2009 VMA Awards to suggest Swift didn't really deserve the one she was receiving.

WEST: I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And both artists have traded jabs in their songs ever since.

WEST: I made that (INAUDIBLE) famous.


FOREMAN: Senator Bob Corker, whose seat is being filled in Tennessee, says he doesn't think it's going to make any difference. But both Swift and West have such high profiles with so many millions of fans, there's always a chance it could -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will.

FOREMAN: We'll see.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

FOREMAN: Welcome.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, good report.

There's breaking news we're following. Hurricane Michael now a major Category 3 storm, rapidly intensifying as it barrels towards the Florida Panhandle. We have new details. There's a new forecast that's just out. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Category 3. A just-released forecast reveals that Hurricane Michael is intensifying rapidly as it barrels towards the Gulf Coast. This powerful Category 3 storm now threatening to bring historic destruction to the Florida Panhandle.

[18:00:00] Diplomatic departure. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley calls it quits, prompting a warm-and-fuzzy White House announcement instead of a terse presidential tweet. Why is she leaving and why the special treatment from Mr. Trump?