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Hurricane Dorian and its wild path across the Caribbean; Trump Picks Fight As Powerful Storm Nears Puerto Rico; The Next Televised Showdown Between 2020 Democrats Has Been Set. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being here. Right now, all eyes are on Hurricane Dorian and its wild path across the Caribbean. The storm has just been upgraded to a Category 1 Storm, and not only has it strengthened, it has changed course and is now traveling the same track of 2017's Hurricane Maria up around the islands East Side and forecasters say by the time it passes Puerto Rico, it could become a major Hurricane Category 3 and spinning straight toward the U.S. mainland, namely the Southeast Florida, Georgia, South Carolina. The question right now is where in the Southeast could Dorian make landfall?

Tom Sater is our senior meteorologist tracking all of this in the CNN Weather Center. So what's going on with Dorian right now?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Brooke. Dorian is the little storm that could. A couple of days ago, we were like, "Dorian? Eh. It's not going to continue." Yesterday, it was like, "Oh, okay, we see you." And now today it's, "Get ready."

This storm has been fighting a dry atmosphere. It shouldn't be really together, but it did. It couldn't even find a center yesterday. Here's the visual imagery, and you can see how broad now it is getting. It's a small storm and smaller storms typically can really be changed in either direction, either strengthening or deteriorating when they're smaller, but this one continues to build.

The track then shifted to the East, and really when we watch this toward Florida, several days away, so a lot can happen. But the big thing here is the track since it moved to the East, it's no longer going over the high mountains of Hispaniola. It is no longer going to break up there, it is feeding now in the waters.

Current position, right over St. Thomas. Buck Island reporting a wind gust at 111 miles per hour. That's a higher elevation, but you get an indication that it is strengthening. British U.S. Virgin Islands getting hit pretty hard right now. We hear that electricity is flickering, may even go out around St. Thomas. But it looks like the hurricane winds extend outward 20 miles. That's not far enough to really get into San Juan, great news there.

And most of those winds, even tropical storm force winds, Brooke, that move out 80 miles are mainly to the East, away from Puerto Rico. I mean, they've got 30,000 residents that still have blue tarps. You just drive through the area. And of course, there's only like five electrical stations that are working out of 16, and they could fluctuate a little bit. They're getting bands of rainfall as you start to see the center now over St. Thomas.

What will happen after this? The big question. It could most likely and the track takes it north of the Bahama Islands. I think the Turks and Caicos are looking pretty good. But when you go back and look at our spaghetti plots, you cannot pick one of these lines say that's what's going to happen. We've got to look at the entire cone and the steering currents behind this are several days away. They're just moving in and out into the West Coast now.

So really going back to the record, so 1950, if you take all the storms that have been where Dorian is, there were 17 -- only one made landfall in Florida, 2004. It was Jeanne. A couple went into the Gulf, don't worry about that. That's not going to happen.

Most of them, however, brushed up of course the coastline and out in the Atlantic. That's what we want, but we just don't know yet. Right now, it's the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. Some wind gusts will move in towards San Juan in Puerto Rico, but it looks like they may miss the brunt of this as well. It's not going to take much though, to cause problems there as you well know.

BALDWIN: I was down in the Virgin Islands not so long ago. I have dear friends over there and you know, they're still all talking about Irma and the destruction from Irma and now this.

I want to focus, Tom, thank you so much, just on Puerto Rico now. Puerto Rico's biggest worries -- flash flooding, damaging winds, power outages. One local official says the island's biggest fear, of course, in the wake of Maria's destruction is another hurricane.

Omar Jimenez is our CNN National Correspondent there in Humacao, Puerto Rico and you know, Maria was not that long ago. People are still -- they have tarps on their rubes in some parts of the island and are -- you know, rebuilding those roads. Are they ready for this?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that is the real big question right now. In fact, one of the biggest fears that one Puerto Rican disaster recovery official said today was that they are now in their second hurricane season since Hurricane Maria struck and there are still many places across the island with still no permanent fixes from the damage that Maria brought.

So you can imagine the fear that would come into not only officials, but some citizens here who when they see a storm like Dorian being upgraded slowly by slowly and gaining strength out in the Atlantic fear over what it may bring.

Now, good news on one front is that this is not expected to be a Maria type wind event here on Puerto Rico. But the concern that they have at least immediately is the amount of rainfall that it could bring specifically leading to the potential for flooding when you look at some of the more mountainous regions of this island. [14:05:12] JIMENEZ: So they've tried to get people who still have

tarps for roofs and people with infrastructure that may not be able to withstand some of even minor flooding, trying to get them into shelters. It's part of why they closed down school today. They've closed -- they, of course, closed government offices, aside from essential personnel just trying to make sure that even if the same devastation doesn't come like what we saw in Maria, they are at the very least prepared and err on the side of caution, rather than being caught by surprise.

BALDWIN: We'll stay in touch with you. Omar, thank you very much in Humacao. You know the American citizens in Puerto Rico, they are already frightened, fearful about what this storm may bring. And now local leaders are dealing with insults being hurled at them by President Trump.

Remember yesterday, he lamented the fact that Puerto Rico was getting hit by yet another big storm. And then earlier this morning President Trump attacked the mayor of San Juan tweeting, quote, "We are tracking closely Tropical Storm Dorian as it heads as usual to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it and give them a big thank you, not like last time that includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan." But Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz had something to say for Trump.


MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (via phone): His behavior, his lack of understanding, and it is ludicrous. Three thousand Puerto Ricans did not open their eyes this morning because this racist man did not have it within him to do his job. So get out of the way President Trump and let the people that can do the job, get the job done.


BALDWIN: Kaitlan Collins is our CNN White House Correspondent and that whole -- that back and forth between the President and the Mayor, that wasn't the end of it? Because the President tweeted again.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Brooke. And it likely won't be the last either. The President did tweet again. He said, quote, "Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth." He added, "Their political system is broken and their politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Congress approved billions of dollars last time more than any place else has ever gotten and it is sent to crooked politicians. No good."

He adds, "And by the way, I'm the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico." That last line, Brooke, there is something that officials like the San Juan Mayor had disputed, saying that the administration was too slow to respond after Hurricane Maria devastated the island two years ago, which officials back here at the White House pushed back on saying, it's just so difficult to get something outside of the continental U.S. and that is why they struggled in the aftermath of that storm and other problems like the existing power grid that were already there before this storm struck.

Of course, that's not the only thing that President is criticized over. He's also criticized for how he did act when he did go visit Puerto Rico, including that video that went viral where the President was playfully tossing those rolls of paper towels into the crowd at a church as they were delivering aid and supplies.

So that would be the question with this as the President is essentially preparing for Puerto Rico to have its first major storm since Hurricane Maria, how is he going to respond? But his tweets seem to already be giving us an indication of that.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you very much. And a little later on, we'll talk to a Maria survivor who was headed to Puerto Rico to be with her family as the storm hit. So we'll talk to her.

Meantime, breaking the law to build the border wall. That is what aides say the President is willing to do in this new stunning report out of "The Washington Post" today. And it's not just to fulfill a campaign promise, but to get it finished before the 2020 election.

Citing "The Washington Post" quote, "The President has told senior aides that a failure to deliver on the signature promise of his 2016 campaign would be a let-down to his supporters and an embarrassing defeat."

So reportedly, the President is directing aides to fast track billions of dollars in construction contracts aggressively seizing private lands and disregard environmental rules. A senior officials put it this way to "The Post," quote, "They don't care how much money is spent whether landowners rights are violated, whether the environment is damaged, the wall, the regs or even prudent business practices."

And Trump reportedly offered this quote, "He also told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing, should they have to break the laws to get the barriers built quickly."

Think about that for a second. This is not the first time the President is walking the line to get what he wants done no matter how bad a spot he puts his staff in, and for more than that, I turn to CNN Politics Reporter and CNN Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza.

So don't worry about it, if you have to break the law, I'll pardon you is what he is basically saying.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. In a vacuum, Brooke, what you just laid out is stunning, but it's not in a vacuum. And that's what I think is all the more worrisome.

Let's run through just four -- there's more -- but let's run through four examples where staff and aides were concerned that Trump was urging them to break the law. Okay.

[14:10:10] CILLIZZA: Kevin McAleenan, at the time, the Head of the Border Patrol and Kirstjen Nielsen, the former Homeland Security Secretary were concerned because Trump urged them to deny migrants and people seeking asylum at the border. He repeatedly railed on the asylum process that people just claim it and they -- you know, they use it through a loophole, not clear that they could do that, but he urged them to do so.

Let's go to the next one, because as I said, there's more. He told Don McGahn, who was -- all of these people are former White House officials -- the former White House General Counsel, he told Don McGahn to tell Bob Mueller, the Special Counsel, he was fired.

McGahn didn't do that for a couple reasons. One, he was worried about legal reasons. Two, he was concerned about the political fallout on Trump's administration, but still Donald Trump told him do it.

Let's go the next one. Okay, this one is stunning. This is from Bob Woodward's book about the first term of President Trump. In the book, he says that in the wake of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad using chemical weapons against his own people, Trump said to Jim Mattis, at the time again, former now Defense Secretary, "We need to kill him. We need to assassinate Bashar Al-Assad." Yes, we don't usually do that as a country.

Okay. Let's go to last one. Jim Comey. We know this happened. Jim Comey testified in front of Congress, again, a former Trump administration official, former F.B.I. Director. Comey said in a private meeting, Trump urged him to see if he could drop this investigation into Michael Flynn and his contacts with the Russians.

Again, not something that Comey felt comfortable doing and obviously didn't do it. Okay. You mentioned pardons, Brooke, and how Trump has floated them, dangled them and he has done this a lot. He is not just dangling them, he has actually given them. Fifteen Trump pardons since he has been President.

And what's interesting about this is, these three, we didn't put all of them on the screen because that's a lot of pictures. But look at these three, Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby and Dinesh D'Souza, these three are all very promising, sort of conservative cause pardons. All people that Trumps base really, really liked and wanted pardoned, and he did it.

So there's some precedent for this, even if he doesn't say, "I'll pardon you," he could say, "Look at who I've pardoned in the past dot, dot, dot." And that's where it gets concerning. This is a President who, if he knows where the line is, he likes to walk right up to the edge of it and maybe step a foot across or urge people to work for him to step a foot across. That should concern all of us -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, he wants that wall built by 2020, he wants to fulfill that campaign promise. Chris Cillizza will follow it. Thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The next Democratic debate is set and this could mean a moment of reckoning for some candidates. We will take a look at who made the cut, and what's next for those who did not. Plus breaking news this afternoon from the Pentagon on a series of

topics including North Korea and the President and why China and Russia are building up their forces. Stay with me. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:17:51] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. The next televised showdown between 2020 Democrats has essentially been set, thanks to this new Quinnipiac poll. Ten candidates have met the DNC's polling standards of two percent which means these are the faces that will be sharing one stage and will be kept to one night.

Among the candidates who will not be on that stage barring any last minute surprises, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, billionaire Tom Steyer, author Marianne Williamson and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

This new poll also shows former Vice President Joe Biden maintaining his lead with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders trailing him. And this is significant here, for the first time since President Trump was elected, more voters say that the national economy is getting worse rather than getting better.

So with me now, CNN Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, nice to have you on. On that last bit of information, I just reported out, the economic fears appear to be seeping into the 2020 race. A. How critical is this moment for President Trump and B. How do those Democrats seize upon this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So Brooke, it is critical. There's no question about it. I mean, that has been one of the strongest suits that the President's advisers have been counting on is the shape of the economy.

Look, unemployment is still very low. But there are many indicators in the spectrum of the economy that looked like this could be almost at the end of, you know, almost a 10-year run here.

And just look what the President has been saying and doing. He has been talking extensively about things that have moved the market. So when he is doing that, his advisers, the Republicans we talk to are concerned that he is not talking up the economy enough. And you know, it's having a fallout effect.

Now, one question for Democrats, they have not talked about the economy as much as in previous campaigns. They're having arguments over healthcare, other matters here. So it does give Democrats an opening this fall as they head into the fall campaign to talk more about the economy.

So far there are not many strong economic messages with the exception of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who of course are taking a progressive attack here, but look for a lot more economy from a lot of these Democratic candidates.

[14:20:12] BALDWIN: We will and then also when you look at the candidates, how they would do going head to head with President Trump, they all come out on top. Joe Biden is polling the best with a 54 percent to 38 percent lead over the President. At the end of the day, Jeff, I mean, that's the number that matters, right? Who can beat Trump and so far, Biden is still at the top of everyone's list.

ZELENY: Right. And that is the question that is hanging over this entire Democratic campaign, who is the most electable? And there is not an easy answer to that. Electability is in the eye of the beholder. But Joe Biden has been able to hold on to the idea that he is the strongest candidate.

Now, when you look sort of head to head on this, a year out -- more than a year out before a general election, it's not that significant. I don't believe that the President is at 40 percent. Once he begins to go head to head against someone, once he begins to define them, I think that that will tighten up considerably.

I'd be very surprised if a year from now, if at Labor Day of 2020, there is a 14 percent gap. The country is just simply too divided for that. But that electability number is something that Joe Biden is trying to hold on to. And Democrats, of course are trying to make this a referendum on President Trump.

President Trump, of course is trying to define the Democrats as unacceptable. So we know the contours of this discussion. We just have a long way to wait it out.

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for your smart analysis. We have more breaking news now. Dorian has strengthened into a Category 1 Hurricane as it closes in on Puerto Rico. I'll talk to one woman who survived Maria and she is getting on a plane tomorrow night and heading back.

Plus, if it wasn't obvious before the President -- before that the President believes Fox News works for him, it is now. Why he is suddenly turning on the network?


[14:26:19] BALDWIN: Moments ago, a rare news conference over the Pentagon just wrapped. The top two officials of the military held a joint Q&A with reporters and the new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford were there speaking to members of the media, including our own Pentagon Correspondent, Barbara Starr.

So Barbara, run through the major headlines for me, and I mean, just wonderful to finally, you know, hear from these two gentlemen.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brooke, the headline may be that this press conference happened at all. It is the first time in a year that a sitting Secretary of Defense and Chairman have appeared in the briefing room for a joint press conference. So that probably is the biggest headline that they came out and talked to the news media. You know, Afghanistan was one of the big topics that a lot of

reporters had questions on, because we're in this so-called final stage perhaps of some type of peace agreement with the Taliban that will then eventually draw in the Afghan government.

And if it all works, a lot of caveats there, it could lead to troops coming home. It could lead to the end of America's longest war, so 18 years since 9/11. So a lot of discussion, especially by General Dunford on how he views this, and what he is looking for out of this agreement.

He talked about it not being -- he believes, at least, that people shouldn't think of it as the U.S. withdrawing from the battlefield, that they will still be there to fight ISIS, to fight al Qaeda. But he was also pretty clear that the Afghan government is fragile and really can't stand on its own at this point, still 18 years later, to challenge the security threats to ensure that Afghanistan doesn't have a terror threat to the United States growing, if you will, in its own territory that could reach out and attack the U.S. and attack the West.

So that was a big topic. I'd say the other big topic, in fact was North Korea and China. Secretary Mark Esper talking about China, wanting to destabilize the Pacific Region about China's military might.

The Pentagon these days, not nearly as complimentary to China, perhaps, as President Trump is, and then also shifting and talking about North Korea's new weapons tests, and very much indicating that the military remains very concerned that North Korea is making advances with these additional short range weapons tests that it's been conducting.

Nobody knows for sure, but what he's really saying is, U.S. Commanders keeping a very sharp eye on it -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Barbara Starr, thank you very much, from the Pentagon. High drama today in the U.K. as the deadline for them to leave the European Union closes in.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a bold and widely criticized move. He asked for Queen Elizabeth's approval to suspend Parliament next month, and she gave it. So what is the Prime Minister up to? This move shortens lawmakers -- shortens those Members of Parliament, you know, time to block Johnson's plan to leave the E.U. without a deal on October 31st. Remember that is the hard out.

Those critics say Johnson's decision to delay the next parliamentary session until October 14th cuts off weeks of discussion. But Johnson today brushed off that criticism.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October the 17th Summit, ample time in Parliament for MPs to debate the E.U. debate, Brexit and all the other issues -- ample time.


BALDWIN: CNN Business Editor-at-Large, Richard Quest is live there in London and Richard, he says ample time, but you know critics say no, that this --