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Puerto Rico Governor Responds to Trump over Disaster Relief Spending; Poll: Biden Leads but Buttigieg Rises in Crowded Field; Booker Hit's "Terrible" '90s Crime Bill Backed by Biden & Sanders; Ex- White House Aide Steve Bannon Predicts "Very Vitriolic Year"; Rep. Tom Reed (R) of New York Discusses White House Call to Strike Down Obamacare; Fifth-Grader Dies After Being Hurt in School Fight. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 28, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: What else did the governor have to say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, just to give us context of what the governor was saying in the sound bite you played a few moments ago, basically, they've been trying to get a meeting with the president for weeks now. They were told the president would do this after he got back from Vietnam after his summit with Kim Jong-Un, and they just haven't been able to get in for a meeting with the president. They were at the White House yesterday with aides, and they tried to make their case. They claimed during that meeting that top White House officials, including Pete Navarro, told them, that your governor is, quote, "'F'-ing things up." According to a White House official, moments ago, they're pushing back on that and saying these officials were not told to stop requesting a meeting with the president.

But needless to say, they are fed up inside the governor's office. They feel like when the president, when he made those comments behind closed doors to those Republican Senators, that he just wasn't dealing with the facts and dealing with the reality of the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico.

Governor Rossello is in town right now trying to push for government statehood. That's why he's here. But I asked him in this exclusive interview, do you think the president gets it when it comes to what has happened in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and here's what he had to say.


RICARDO ROSSELLO, (D), GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: He treats us as second-class citizens. That's for sure. My consideration is I just want to have the opportunity to explain to him why the data and information that he is getting is wrong. I don't think getting into a kicking-and-screaming match with the president does any good. I don't think anybody can beat the president on kicking-and-screaming match. I think that what I am aiming to do is making sure that reason prevails, that empathy prevails, that equality prevails, and that we can have a discussion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And the governor went on to say in that interview that they have not been wasting money in Puerto Rico. And, Brianna, as you said a few moments ago, the White House does seem to have their numbers off by $20 million in HUD block grants that have gone, or they were supposed to have gone to the island, that were authorized and appropriated by the Congress. They've only received about $1.5 billion of that down on the island. Governor Rossello says, if you put that up against what they received in terms of disaster relief funding up against what they received on the gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina, it's simply no comparison.

So this is an ongoing problem that they have to deal with down on the island of Puerto Rico. And Governor Rossello, as you saw in that interview, he's basically had enough. He wants to be able to sit down with the president and make it clear to him that, listen, the people down in Puerto Rico are hurting and they urgently need the help of this White House -- Brianna?

KEILAR: That report making it clear that HUD is not handling this correctly as well, placing some blame on HUD on this Trump agency.

ACOSTA: Right.

KEILAR: Jim Acosta, at the White House, thank you so much.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up, a brand-new poll on the 2020 race features not just the familiar front runners but also some movement for a relative unknown.

Did presidential candidate, Cory Booker, just give us a preview of how he plans to take on big names like Biden and Sanders?






[13:37:49] KEILAR: Former Vice President Joe Biden is not officially in the 2020 presidential race but he is at the top of a new poll. In the Quinnipiac University poll, he's at 29 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters. He's followed by Senator Bernie Sanders at 19 percent, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke at 12 percent. And the poll also shows a mini surge by a candidate that you may have not heard of -- maybe you have now -- South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He's at 4 percent, tied with Senator Elizabeth Warren, ahead of Senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. We have senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, joining us now,

with Julie Hirschfeld Davis, who is a congressional correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN political analyst.

How much does the name factor recognition factor into the poll results and what do you make of Mayor Pete's bump?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the name recognition factors a lot into the first three names that we saw. Obviously, former Vice President Biden is not in the race yet, so the fact he's at the top not having even declared a candidacy, a lot of that has to be chalked up to the fact people know his name. He's a known quantity. People feel like he could go up against President Trump potentially and win. That's also the case against Bernie Sanders. He ran last time. He's been around politics for a long time. And of course, Beto O'Rourke had that very attention-grabbing campaign for Senate in Texas last year. He's been getting a lot of attention on the campaign trail.

I think I would attribute Pete Buttigieg's bump to the opposite. People don't know who he is so much. He's more of an unknown quantity, and people like that freshness, and they're looking for that freshness. That's why we see, I think, such a bump for him. He's near the bottom of the pack --


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: -- but he's really come from almost nowhere. And I think that's part of what's propelling him right now. People think, oh, who is this new guy and could he be the one.

KEILAR: But there's a bunch of choices. He's the one peeking their interest.



ZELENY: -- see this week by week. The number of Google searches for his name have skyrocketed over the last three weeks or so. And he has spent a lot of his time fundraising for the deadline coming up at the end of this week. So I think he will have an impressive fundraising time as well. But I think, at the end of all this, all these candidates will be reexamined again. So this is good for him but I wouldn't buy that stock yet.

[13:40:13] KEILAR: Not yet. Maybe later.

Last night, in this town hall we had here on CNN, Senator Cory Booker blasted what he called the horrible crime bills that were enacted in the '90s. Let's listen to this.


BOOKER: As president of the United States, your job is to pursue justice. And what we see right now is so many folks suffering. I passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, with other Senators on both sides of the aisle, the first time since those horrible crime bills back in the 1990s, passed this legislation working across the aisle to move forward.


KEILAR: Those horrible crime bills he's talking about, Biden was a key player in, right? He was a House Judiciary Committee -- Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

Is this a preview, do you think, of how Booker is going to approach Biden, maybe even Bernie Sanders, because he voted on that '94 crime bill? What do you think?

ZELENY; I think it is. I think, look, and it's such a sign of how the times have changed. Now there's bipartisan criminal justice reform. Senator Booker is right in the middle of that. He was largely responsible working with the White House on this, so he benefits from being an in-the-moment politician. We heard Joe Biden try to walk that back a month ago or so. He said, I haven't always been right, I've always tried, and I haven't always been right on this crime bill. It's part of his apology tour, to use an overused phrase. I would be surprised if Senator Booker says Biden by name. He doesn't have to. But that is the distinction.


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: There's a generational distinction as well. Back then, we were talking in terms of, how do you get these crime problems under control. Now we're talking about, how did the government overcompensate for the issues they were facing when that legislation was passed.

KEILAR: We heard from Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for President Trump, predicting, quote, "a very vitriolic year." One that he said will be more vitriolic or the most vitriolic since before the Civil War. He also told Anderson Cooper that Trump is going to go honey badger over the Mueller report. And he says that Hillary Clinton is, quote, "in the bullpen waiting for the call."

What do you think, Julie?

HISCHFELD DAVIS: That last part may be a little bit of wishful thinking. It may be that she is but I know -


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: I'm going to go that route. But certainly, I think on the honey badger thing, I think we're about to see that, right? President Trump is about to have a rally and he's feeling very emboldened by what we know of the Mueller report, which is not that much.

ZELENY: Four pages, four pages of --


HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Four pages of the more than 300 pages. I think there's no question he will double down on this. He is going to be unleashed. The vitriol, I don't think you can bet on that for this campaign after what we've seen in the last two.

ZELENY: No question. And this he obviously wants this to be -- and the question is, how often does Steve Bannon still speak to the president. He's done a few interviews. I think he gets the president's attention. But, look, there's no question the president would love to have Hillary Clinton back in the conversations. He loves an opponent. If he's not satisfied with the 20 already potentially running, he'd love having Clinton back. I assume he'll mention her tonight at the Michigan. "Lock her up" still happens. They have a hard time moving on. But the vitriol is something that the president needs to have happen. He needs space to be angry and he needs to disqualify the other Democrats. That's the two central things he'll try and do over the next 18 months or so.

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, thank you so much.

Coming up, the president doesn't have a health care plan but he wants to kill Obamacare. I'm going to talk to one Republican lawmaker who disagrees with the president on this.

Plus, Democrats and Betsy DeVos go head to head over cuts to the Special Olympics.


[13:48:15] KEILAR: What's the plan? That is the question the White House is facing after calling for Obamacare to be struck down in its entirety. An administration official says there's no fresh plan to replace the Affordable Care Act despite this promise from the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care, you watch.



KEILAR: Republican Congressman Tom Reed, of New York, is co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. He's with us now from Capitol Hill.

Sir, you disagree with this call to scrap Obamacare in the courts. Tell us why.

REP. TOM REED, (R), NEW YORK: Well, I just don't think it's fair to those millions of Americans that, if the court rules the entire Affordable Care Act and Obamacare unconstitutional, we owe it to them as legislators to have a plan ready to go, legislative action taken. We should be doing it now, regardless of what happens with the court. I'm just concerned about those millions of Americans being put in harm's way.

KEILAR: You came into Congress defeating a Democrat as part of a wave election that was a backlash against Democrats overhauling health care. You know what's at stake here, right, politically?

REED: Of course. I mean, obviously, you look at just the last election in 2018, health care was a pivotal issue that many have concluded brought the Democratic majority to the House of Representatives. I understand the decision. I disagree with it. Now I have to respect it. I think what we should be focusing on is getting ready for the court decision, and we should be prepared to roll out reforms, to get to health care costs, drive down health care costs, get insurance in an affordable position and, most importantly, have those preexisting conditions reforms. That appears everyone is in agreement are on the books as law going forward.

[13:50:00] KEILAR: And there's been bipartisan call to protect people with preexisting conditions but there's also been some suggestion you can just protect them. Do you have any idea of how you would protect people with preexisting conditions without a sweeping comprehensive health care bill?

REED: I think well, first and foremost, you have to legislate a require that preexisting condition to be there as the law of the land for any health insurance proposal that comes forward through the system. And then, how do you pay for it. That's the question that causes a lot of division. And that's what we rightfully owe the American people as legislators, our ideas on how to protect those people --

KEILAR: But it --

REED: -- not only legislatively but substantively.

KEILAR: Can I ask you, because it was legislated. It is legislated, right? It is part of the law. But it was that individual mandate that all of the stakeholders in this, the insurance companies, it was the reason why everyone was on the same page on this because they had all of these people coming onto the insurance roles to offset the expense of protecting people with preexisting conditions. How do you have one without the other?

REED: Yes, as we saw, even with the individual mandate on the books prior to tax reform, you saw people not enrolling. They were willing to take the penalty because there was a wiser financial position or they just didn't -- they weren't in a position to pay it. It wasn't correcting the problem as envisioned, as thought up, theoretically. The preexisting condition was on the books, needs to be there, but we need to figure out a way to cover that cost going forward. And that's the trick. That's the question that is going to be before us on this issue.

KEILAR: So ideas, how do you cover the cost?

REED: So, one, first, you recognize we need to protect preexisting conditions. You can socialize that risk further across with a back- stop catastrophic-type of plan to make sure that that's covered in regard to risk management. You give it to the state's potentially to come up with innovative ways. What works in Alaska may not work in New York State. Give them the flexibility to come up with creative ways to socialize the risk.

KEILAR: I mean, when you think back -- I know you weren't in Congress yet but I covered, from day one to the end, the overhaul of the health care bill, and these were all of the things that were on the table. This is one -- this is one of the most sausage-making things that I have ever covered. These were the things that were discussed. These were the things that brought you into Congress, beating a Democrat.

REED: It is. And the problem is, is even with the Affordable Care Act and the eight years that it was fully on the books, you didn't see what was promised. You didn't see health care costs going down. You didn't see access to insurance premiums going down because they were becoming more affordable. You were limiting some of the growth, I will give you that. But we never got to the health care cost equation. And that's where we need to step forward and do this. And you know, the president is right in the sense --


KEILAR: But, Senator, I wonder --

REED: -- we need to move forward with that.

KEILAR: I wonder how you approach that. Politically, that was the promise. That's what Democrats were going to do, they were going to bend the cost but they couldn't. Politically, it was untenable. What has changed that makes it tenable for Republicans when you're in the minority in the House and you don't have, you know -- you have a majority in the Senate, but you're divided?

REED: And that's why I think this should be a Democrat and a Republican solution. This shouldn't be just Republicans thinking we can figure this all out on our own. This is reaching across the aisle in good faith to come up with an American solution to health care. And if we do that, then I think we have a chance to get the health care cost going down and we do it in a way that both of us have jumped together. And the best reforms are those that are done on a bipartisan basis.

KEILAR: I'm holding my breath on this one, but maybe not for too long,

Congressman Tom Reed, thank you so much.

REED: We'll keep working at it, Brianna, I promise you that.

KEILAR: Coming up a fifth-grade girl critically hurt in a classroom fight dies just two days later. What really happened between her and another student?


[13:58:39] KEILAR: It's a shocking story. A fifth grader in South Carolina dies after a classroom fight at her elementary school.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is following this story.

And walk us through what we know here and what we don't.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are a lot of questions here but we do have some answers. Let me take you back to Monday afternoon at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro, South Carolina, just about an hour's drive west of Charleston, where there was a fight between 10-year-old RaNiya Wright and another fifth grader. That other student has not been identified. But what we know from police was that there was an altercation between these two students, a fight. And RaNiya Wright was sent to the nurse's station where she was described as unconscious but breathing. Then she was sent to a local hospital. Then airlifted to the children's hospital in Charleston where this photograph was taken and posted by her mother. We know that just yesterday, a 10-year-old RaNiya died. We don't know why. That has not been released by the family. There's an autopsy scheduled for tomorrow and those answers are expected.

When it comes to the school, there's an executive meeting that's been going on for most of this hour where they have to answer the questions, were these students unsupervised. How soon after the fight was she sent to the nurse's station? Lots of questions here. We know that another student has been suspended. No criminal charges filed -- Brianna?

[14:00:04] KEILAR: Victor Blackwell, thank you for that.

That is it for me. "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.