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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz; Puerto Rico Braces For Hurricane. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Dana Bash is in for Jake. And "THE LEAD" starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Puerto Rico bracing for a hurricane, and gets a direct hit from the president.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: Hurricane Dorian slamming, preparing to swipe Puerto Rico, an island still suffering from Hurricane Maria two years ago. The storm could also hit the U.S. mainland as a major hurricane.

And as if getting slammed by Mother Nature isn't enough, the president spent this morning ripping Puerto Rico, and specifically the mayor of San Juan. She will be here to respond.

And take the land, don't worry, I will pardon you. A new report goes inside President Trump's all-out and possibly law-bending attempt to build the border wall before people vote.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BASH: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start with breaking news in the national lead. What is now Hurricane Dorian lashing the Virgin Islands and bearing down on Puerto Rico, it is proving to be a test for the already battered island and the three million people, all American citizens, who live there.

Dorian's track keeps changing and keeps getting stronger, now expected to swell into a Category 3 hurricane as it heads towards Florida.

CNN is covering every angle.

And we will start with CNN's Omar Jimenez on Puerto Rico's east side.

So, Omar, what is happening where you are?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, well, just to our east, Hurricane Dorian continues to gather strength by the minute at this point.

At the very least, it has kept people on the island of Puerto Rico on their toes. Obviously, the devastation that Hurricane Maria brought less than two years ago now is still very much top of mind. It is why they have tried to make sure that everything has been as prepared as possible, and that, of course, extends from help from the federal government and FEMA resources, and also down to the 78 mayors across the island, and to the, of course, citizens as well.

Now, one of the things they have tried to keep a handle on is power outages across the island. So they have tried to make sure they have had enough generators for any issues that popped up there, but also trying to make sure that, with the rainfall that we have seen in portions of the island, that it does not become to a point where -- come to a point -- excuse me -- where landslides could occur, and, of course, flash flooding as well.

So they are all factors we're keeping an eye on at this point, but I can tell you, at this moment, everyone here does seem to be prepared with the worst on their mind, but hoping for the best.

BASH: And Omar, you mentioned the power. It took nearly a year for Puerto Rico to restore electricity after the 2017 storm, so is the power holding up where you are so far?

JIMENEZ: So far, here on the eastern portion of the island -- we're in the town of Humacao -- it has held up, but it is part of why FEMA has brought in way more generators than they have over the course -- or in the aftermath, I should say, of Hurricane Maria.

They brought in more personnel as well. And with the emergency declaration that has been granted, they will be able to deploy those resources quickly if necessary -- Dana.

BASH: Omar, thank you so much. We will certainly be getting back to you throughout the day and night.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

[16:06:10]

BASH: And I want to go now, on the phone, to the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Thank you so much for joining me.

First, is San Juan ready for what's going to hit it?

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Well, certainly, we're much more ready than we were two years ago.

Our entire medical services organization is all powered by generators, if need be. Our hospital, as far as we know, our municipal hospital, is the only hospital in Puerto Rico that has not one, but two generation systems. So, all of our 10 surgical rooms would be working and fully operational. We have enough food, water, surgical equipment, and medication to last one month, and that includes not only what we need for the municipalities, but the ability to take care of people outside.

Already, we have 800 boxes of food and essentials for people. We have water, we have ice, we have enough diesel and enough gas in reserve, so that we can withstand one month. We have generators, 50 power lights and 32 generators of various capacities.

So all of this has been done by the municipal infrastructure, and it is a municipal investment, so we are certainly very much more ahead in terms of planning than we were two years ago. Right now, we have four shelters open, and only two of them have been receiving people. At 2:00, we had around 45 people in our shelters.

BASH: And, Mayor Cruz, you talk about how much you guys are working on being prepared this time around. In the past eight hours, as you were doing that, the president has been sending out some tweets -- I'm sure you're aware -- saying that you are incompetent, saying that Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on Earth, and that he is the best thing to ever happen to Puerto Rico.

Your response?

CRUZ: Well, the president has a vanity complex. He thinks everything is about him. He is a liar and a racist, and he continues to try to belittle the people of Puerto Rico.

But while he is doing that, you know, Congressman Bennie Thompson is trying to do his best in keeping the Puerto Rico topic alive and making sure that anything that he can do from the FEMA perspective is going to happen.

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke about us this morning on tweets, saying, look, President, enough is enough. Just get off your high horse, and start doing the work that you need to do, Congresswoman (INAUDIBLE) -- I just -- I got a call from (INAUDIBLE) a few hours ago.

So, while he is trying to -- and let me tell you what he is trying to do. This is the oldest trick in the book. He has stolen $155 million from emergency relief money to build his wall, a wall that will divide, and a wall that is, frankly, against the people of color and the Latino population.

So an insult from President Trump is well-received on my part, because that means he knows that I am nothing like him.

BASH: So you -- what you were talking about is the fact that the Trump administration is shifting at least $155 million from a FEMA disaster relief fund to support its immigration policies at the border.

Obviously, you -- as you mentioned, you think that that is -- that is a very bad policy. But what are you hearing from the Democrats you mentioned who have called you about they're attempts to prevent that from happening?

CRUZ: Well, number one, they're going to keep the conversation going, and they are going to keep fighting for the people of Puerto Rico.

[16:10:01]

I had a -- I have to say -- you have to say things as they are. I had a wonderful conversation with MaryAnn Tierney this morning, the regional administrator for FEMA, Region 3 in Philadelphia, opening the channels of communication, which was much more than what FEMA did last time.

So that is a very good step. And my hope is that the president really keeps his mouth shut and let the people that are doing the work do the work that needs to be done to save lives.

This is what you're supposed to say.

BASH: Mayor...

CRUZ: To the people -- to the people of Florida, from the mayor of San Juan, we are with you, our thoughts and prayers are with you, and if need be, we will be there for you to make sure that you don't die, as 3,000 of us died because of the president's negligence and bureaucracy.

BASH: Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, thank you. We will let you get back to the important work that you're doing to prepare for whatever is coming your way.

CRUZ: Thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

And Puerto Rico is not the only target of President Trump's today. We have breaking news on what is driving the president to lash out.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:16] BASH: President Trump is unloading on a number of targets on Twitter today -- going after Puerto Rico as it braces for a hurricane, and suggesting Fox News is betraying him and his supporters.

I'm going to get right to the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live there.

And, Kaitlan, you have some new reporting about what's rattling the president.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, you've seen the president lash out in recent days from everything from Puerto Rico to the G7 summit to the much promised border wall that still hasn't been built along the southern border. We are told a lot of this has to do with the president keeping an eye on 2020 and he's now realizing that what he was relying on to get him re-elected, the economy, is not looking so good.

This comes as there is infighting on the president's own economic team, who has contradicted each other publicly, disagreed privately, over what path they should take to stave off these worries about an economic downturn, which they are now concerned is going to spill over into how voters decide who they're going to vote for in 2020. Now, the president is searching for a win to run in 2020. Some accomplishments that he can look at of, and this comes as the president is still dealing with problems as of today, like Puerto Rico and the storm that is now bearing down upon it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): With the new storm barreling toward Puerto Rico, President Trump is reigniting old feuds, blaming the U.S. territory as one of the most corrupt places on earth, tweeting: Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Congress approved billions of dollars last time, and more than any place else has ever gotten, and it is sent to crooked politicians. No good.

And by the way, I'm the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being.

COLLINS: Local officials say otherwise, including the San Juan mayor, who feuded with Trump after Hurricane Maria, in 2017, when she blamed his administration for being too slow to respond.

As Puerto Rico and its 3.2 million American citizens brace for another major storm, Trump is shrugging off his role as comforter in chief and focusing on the fuse.

But critics say he should focus on his response, after he tossed paper towels to a crowd the last time he visited the island.

TRUMP: I give ourselves a 10.

COLLINS: While the president is on hurricane watch, he is also criticizing his favorite TV channel, tweeting, today, that: We have to start looking for a new news outlet. Because Fox isn't working for us anymore.

Trump, launching that attack, after the network interviewed a Democratic Party official.

All this, as "The Washington Post" reports he recently told aides, quote: Don't worry, I'll pardon you -- if they have to break the law to get his border wall built by the next election.

TRUMP: The wall is being built. We are building tremendous numbers of miles of wall right now, in different locations.

COLLINS: Trump making that claim last week but officials tell CNN that, as of August, no new miles of his border wall have been built.

Instead, Customs and Border Patrol has replaced roughly 60 miles of barrier that already existed but was deteriorating. Though officials insist there are plans for 110 miles of new wall in place.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Dana, we're also now being told by an administration official that President Trump did not agree to that proposed aid package for Brazil to help fight those fire, in the Amazon, at the G7 Summit.

At the end of it, the French president announced the proposed package, implying that the United States was on board, and that all of the G7 nations had agreed to it. But now that Brazil has rejected the aid package because they weren't consulted about it, we are being told by an administration official that the president never signed off on agreeing to that package either, and they said that it is in part because there were not the consultations with the Brazilian president -- Dana.

BASH: Kaitlan, thank you for that.

We have so much to unpack here around the table.

I mean, let's just start with this new reporting, Kaitlan is hearing, I'm hearing and other colleagues, about some of what is going into the president's latest series of Twitter rants that he is not happy, that he is, he is worked up about several things, about the coverage that he got at the G7, and also more importantly, what's happening with the economy, which has been his, he hoped his calling card, when it came to the election, the re-election.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: President Trump is freaking out. That's clear by how he is behaving on Twitter, how he is behaving, reportedly, with staff, and in the White House. And we can see that even by his -- how frantic he is about building the wall.

[16:20:02] As we just saw in some of the reporting, new wall hasn't been built. He's trying to transfer money. It doesn't matter that there is a storm headed toward Puerto Rico.

And sometimes he tells you exactly what he is thinking, and in this case, he is worried about 2020, he knows his supporters want the wall. He wants that chant at the rallies coming up next year. So he is clearly feeling the heat about 2020, and the election, that's always been front and -- first and foremost in his mind and now, he is seeing polls of a lot of Democrats beating him. I think it's pretty clear what's happening.

BASH: That's one of the things going on with the polls. But the poll that came out today from Quinnipiac University on the economy, just looking tat from the point of view of a reporter, but more importantly, hearing about it from inside, talking to Trump sources, this is bad.

Look at this screen right now for him. Trump's handling of the economy, underwater, which means that disapproval is higher than the approval. And maybe even worse than that for the president is the following, that more Americans now think that the economy is going in the wrong direction, for the first time in this poll in the Trump presidency than the right direction.

You've been on many a campaign. You know how important these economic numbers are.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY POLICY DIRECTOR: Yes, they're key. This was going to be the calling card for the president, right? The state of the economy, the strength of his management of the economy. This was going to be the essence of the argument for re-election.

And the challenge is, you know, really for the president, the issue is how is the economy doing going into the election? A lot of people focus on the economy on election day. That's the wrong measure. All of the empirical research tells us, the measure to worry about it is the state of the economy going into the election. That's six months before, it is critical.

And if people aren't feeling good about it, if the economic numbers aren't as good, if the president's handling of the economy is not as good, that's going to be bad news for the president as he thinks about re-election. So, there is no question that 2020 and the factors behind re-election are motivating his thinking and the thinking of many of his aides right now.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think the reason why this is so dangerous for Trump right now, and frankly for his supporters, and Republicans on the Hill, that they've been, always been able to say, oh, yes, he says stupid things, yes, he's tweeted racist things, yes, he embraces white nationalists and white supremacists, but look at the economy, right?

That is kind of disappearing right now. And when you have a poll that shows that for the first time he's underwater with these numbers, and then you look at every single other issue where he has been under water for so long, that just completely spells danger. And then he starts freaking about everything else and he starts insulting the people in Puerto Rico who are about to face another hurricane. Florida -- I mean, I'm waiting to see what he says about Florida, and an important swing state for him, so he's got to be careful there.

But I do think that it spells danger sign, not just for him and his re-election, but frankly, what goes on around him, when what you want, what you need, in the Oval Office, is calm, and that's the furthest from the president right now.

BASH: You mentioned the tweets today -- Antonia, as the Republican communications specialist at the table, the fact that he went after Fox News today, specifically for the idea -- because of the fact that they had a Democrat, on their air, and he was upset that the host didn't challenge the Democrat. You see the tweet up there. Fox News is letting millions of great

people down. We start looking for a news outlet. Fox isn't working for us anymore.

Does Fox work for you guys?

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE GOP COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: No, it doesn't work for Republicans, no, and I would actually say that it does pretty well -- I mean, of course, as does CNN. But I -- look, the president likes to criticize everyone, and he criticizes this network, he criticizes NBC, he likes to sit there --

BASH: But we haven't heard this kind of thing, as much. We heard it from time to time about Fox --

FERRIER: True.

BASH: -- because there's a symbiotic relationship and that's an understatement.

FERRIER: That's true, that is true. One, I would say, on my side of the aisle, have made similar accusations about a network that is not CNN, we'll just leave it there.

I would just say, look, he is very critical of the press because he is consumed by the press. He uses TiVo. He watches everything. He consumes everything.

So his tweet storms are very much guided by what he has watched, and what he has seen. And you can see, he doesn't like good coverage. He lashes out, and so there is a lot of that, that is just how he does things. This is the Trump show. It has always been the Trump show.

I don't think this is quite as different or sort of different than what he has always been. I mean, he since -- I'm just saying he was going into the election, he went after Senator McCain. I mean, this is kind of what he does, and he's critical of everything and everyone. And I don't expect him to change --

PSAKI: It is what Trump sees. Trump thinks that Fox News works for him. And he calls the opinion host, not the reporters necessarily, not that we've heard of, but he calls the opinion host. He gets advice from him, so it's his perception.

One of the things that I thought was interesting in how he said it was it's not working for us. I mean, he was calling his supporters to say this isn't our network anymore.

[16:25:03] And I'll be interested to see how Fox handles that in the next (INAUDIBLE).

FERRIER: Sure. I would just make one observation that there are plenty of reporters who have gone into Democratic politics overtime. So I would just say that the sort of bias question from the conservative side in terms of the media, there is some legitimacy to it. PSAKI: I think Fox is pretty clearly a Trump mouthpiece but --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Everybody stand by. We can talk more about that after the break, or later in the show.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: But President Trump is apparently encouraging aides to break the law for the border wall. A key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Chris Coons, is going to respond, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:00]