Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Dorian nears Florida; Fuel Shortages in Florida; Tourists Impacted by Storm; Miami Braces for Dorian; No Permanent FEMA Administrator by Trump; Military Construction Funds for Wall; DNC Blocks Virtual Caucuses in Iowa. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Everybody, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you so much for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

I'm Brianna Keilar is up right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, we are starting with our breaking news.

Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the southeastern United States. The category two storm is slowing down and building strength. And this is expected to become a category four storm with winds of at least 130 miles per hour by the time this slams into the Florida coast.

President Trump has now declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, and we are positioned throughout the state to bring you the latest as residents are bracing for the worst.

Let's start in the CNN Severe Weather Center where Allison Chinchar is tracking the storm.

And, Allison, you're watching the storm slow down right now, which is concerning.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is a little bit, especially for Florida, because the slower it moves, especially after it's made landfall and just sits there, the more time it has to dump rain. So we look at what the storm is doing right now. Here you can kind of see that forward movement northwest at about 10 miles per hour. The sustained winds right now are 110 miles per hour. Keep in mind that is one mile per hour off from a category three storm.

We are still continuing to see this storm strengthen. Right now the eyewall is trying to close up a little bit. That's usually a sign that it may be going through an eyewall replacement cycle. They often do that when they're trying to regain themselves and strengthen even more. So it's very likely this will be a category three storm at some point today, likely in the next three to six hours. We do still anticipate it to get up to a category four in strength.

Again, it's moving through an environment that has very low shear and very warm ocean temperatures. Both of those things really help the development of systems like this.

We still expect that landfall most likely to be in the southern half of the state of Florida, but even a slight change could begin to shift that. The ultimate question is, when does it start that shift off to the north? Does it make it all the way across Florida and then go north or does it just barely make landfall and then begin to shift north? That will have a lot -- a lot of indication on the amount of rain that we ending up getting from this storm.

We do already have hurricane watches in effect for portions of the Bahamas, likely going to add some more of those for portions of Florida, likely in the next 24 hours or so.

Here's the thing, though. The real question becomes, when does it turn? And to really look for that, you've got to look at what else is around it because all of these things steer the storm.

This low-pressure system down to the south, as well as this high- pressure system out to the east, that's what's really going to continue it on that northwest track until it gets to Florida. Then you've also got some other factors that are likely going to limit where it ends up going in the short term.

The biggest concern going forward for Florida is going to be how slow the forward movement is once it gets there because that will determine whether or not some of these places, say, get six to 10 inches of rain or potentially as much as 20 inches of rain.

KEILAR: Wow. All right, we'll be keeping an eye on this with you.

Allison Chinchar, thank you.

Now, West Palm Beach, Florida, is in the expected path of this storm. That is where Rosa Flores is.

And, Rosa, all of the state, all of Florida is under this state of emergency. What about evacuation orders? Are you expecting those where you are?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, those are usually issued by local authorities and the state has always said that residents should follow what local officials instruct them to do because they know the municipalities and the localities a lot better than the state officials do. So at this early stage we haven't heard of any evacuation orders, but if you take a look around me, gas stations are packed at this hour. People are trying to find gas.

This is one of the only gas stations we were able to find in the area that we were in West Palm Beach that actually has gas, Brianna. From talking to the owner, we learned that his family owns four gas stations in the area. This is the only one that has gas. And he says that he's expecting to have gas until probably about 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. After that, it's a bit of a toss-up depending if he gets a new load of gas.

One of the things that is helping is what you mentioned. Governor Ron DeSantis issued a disaster declaration, a state of emergency for all 67 counties in the state of Florida. That helps because that eases the rules. It allows more gas to flow into the state and, of course, get to gas stations like this one.

But from talking to people all day here at a gas station right now and earlier in the day at a Home Depot, I can tell you that people are heeding the warnings. Although, Brianna, I have talked to some people who say that they will not evacuate regardless of what city officials say. And that, of course, is what officials say you're not supposed to do, especially as Dorian gets closer and closer to the coast.


[13:05:06] KEILAR: Yes, it's such a gamble and the stakes are so high.

Rosa Flores in West Palm Beach, thank you.

Let's head up north a little bit along the coast there. Nick Valencia is in Daytona Beach, Florida.

And, Nick, we were talking yesterday and you told us that stores there were already running out of water, they were running out of supplies because people were preparing for the storm and grabbing all of them up. But it's not just the residents there. This is a big tourist destination where you are.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is supposed to be one of the busiest weekends of the year for Florida. But just look behind me. You know, parts of this beach are just completely empty. Some tourists have just not showed up, changed their plans.

We want to introduce you to a couple, though, here who have decided to stay, at least for now.

Josette and David.

Josette, you actually showed up here on Wednesday and you said you went to the Walmart and you couldn't find water?

JOSETTE AQUINO, VISITING DAYTONA BEACH FROM ARLINGTON: Yes, the whole shelves on the -- on the whole aisle was empty. We had to buy like the most expensive like six pack of Smart Water. That was about all they had.

VALENCIA: David, come on in here a little bit. Yes, I want to get your perspective as well.

So are you nervous? You're from Texas, but, you know, you're here visiting. And are -- what are you guys doing to prepare?

DAVID LEAMON, VISITING DAYTONA BEACH FROM ARLINGTON: We're basically just watching the news and seeing what's going on and getting the locals' idea of what to do. VALENCIA: Are you nervous at all? Anxious? Are you planning to get out

of here?

LEAMON: We're actually going to be taking off Sunday. So it's -- it's been pushed back hopefully far enough back to where our flights aren't affected too bad.

VALENCIA: What do you think about this, Josette, because you look around, you know, there's a lot of empty beach chairs. You guys are a couple -- the only ones, you know, hanging out here. It's beautiful right now, but, I mean it's kinds of -- kind of weird, right, to see --

AQUINO: We expected like -- we got parking for $5. I thought it would be more. I think they just want to get people in here. You know, there's like a bunch of hotels that are like, hey, low rates, you know, on the strip down here. So I think they're just trying to get that -- I mean they're expecting a lot of business this weekend and they're not getting it.

VALENCIA: I mean it's a huge economic impact, no doubt. We talked earlier to a guy who owns an aerial advertising company and he said this is one of the busiest weekends and he's going to lose a lot of money.

AQUINO: Yes, we were thinking the same thing. And then we're seeing all the stuff that's getting, you know, prepared and boarded up and we're like, oh, my God, this is, you know, it's really hitting, you know, that there's something coming.

VALENCIA: Any final thoughts about the storm?

LEAMON: Hopefully it doesn't do what they say it's going to.


LEAMON: I mean it's going to be nasty wherever you are, so just hunker down.


VALENCIA: Listen to authorities, right?

AQUINO: Yes, and hopefully that -- our hearts go out to the people that it will affect, if it does affect anybody, yes.

LEAMON: Yes, absolutely.

VALENCIA: Thank you, guys. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. I know you're a couple of people that are enjoying it right now. A lot of people, though, Brianna, extremely nervous and anxious. We saw preparations, sandbagging operations underway. People gathering supplies.

You drive around this area, though, there's not a lot of businesses and residents just boarded up with plywood just yet. I think a lot of these veteran Floridians, you know, some want to wait until the last minute to see that track and know that that track can change. But, right now, it looks like it's going to make a direct impact here on the eastern coast of Florida.


KEILAR: It is beautiful there, but I would say get out while you can. Sunday is cutting it pretty close there.

Nick Valencia, thank you so much for bringing us that interview.

The message is clear, take this storm seriously and be safe.

Captain Ignatius Carroll is with Miami Fire and Rescue.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us.


KEILAR: So the forecast says right now that it could be a category four when it makes landfall. Are you encouraging people to leave even if an evacuation order hasn't been given yet?

CARROLL: Yes, I think the message that we're trying to get out to everybody, like what we've been hearing on your show right now, is be prepared. Preparation is key. So heed the warnings. And like other cities, Miami is a tourist city that has a lot of tourists here and those are some of the concerns that we have as well with the tourists that are either here or trying to stay or are trying to get back home.

KEILAR: Now, even in the case of an evacuation or, you know, if it is going to get to a point where people won't be able to evacuate at a certain point and they're starting to see how serious this could be, there are people who will not heed warnings, they're going to stay in their homes, what will you and your teams be able to do during this storm?

CARROLL: Well, as you can see, we're preparing for this storm to come, getting our equipment together. What we tell people is that they have to recognize that when the storm passes, there's a lot of destruction, so it would be very difficult for us to get out there. So what we encourage them to do is be prepared for themselves. Be able to be self-sufficient until fire and rescue is able to get out there or even police. But they need to remember that there's a lot of damage that takes place, a lot of streets that are covered with debris, so it will be some difficult and take some time to get out there to them.

KEILAR: Is there anything that you need from the state or from the federal government that you're not getting?

CARROLL: No. I think all the state -- and our local, state and federal levels, the support is there. And whatever it is that we would need or -- as far as the entire Miami-Dade and Broward County areas would need, I know that they would be forthcoming with those resources.

[13:10:04] KEILAR: All right, Captain Ignatius Carroll, thank you so much.

CARROLL: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Trump will be heading to Camp David this weekend to monitor Hurricane Dorian, but he won't have a permanent FEMA director by his side, and that could be a problem.

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now to talk about this.

And the FEMA director is the person who oversees the natural disaster recovery effort. So what happens when this hurricane hits?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a pivotal role in any administration, especially as a hurricane is approaching Florida, like this one with Hurricane Dorian is. But President Trump's pick to be the FEMA administrator has not been confirmed by the Senate yet. And, instead, the president has an acting associate administrator who is going to be by his side, shepherding him through his response to this hurricane over the weekend.

Now, Brianna, the last guy who was the actual FEMA -- confirmed FEMA administrator resigned in February after he clashed with then Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The president picked someone else, this guy, Jeffrey Byard, but his nomination, though it was sent to Capitol Hill to be confirmed, has essentially come to a standstill up there and right now the FEMA is -- the agency is being run by this acting director, Pete Gaynor, who we should note, while he does have essentially a decade of experience overseeing natural disasters, this is going to be his first hurricane since he's been running FEMA in this acting position.

Now, of course, he's not the only person in an acting position that's going to be by the president's side as he monitors this storm from Camp David. The Department of Homeland Security secretary is also an acting position, Kevin McAleenan, taking over for Kirstjen Nielsen after she resigned earlier this year, but he is not Senate confirmed in that role.

Now, there is one more person who does play a pretty pivotal role in shaping the administration's response to a hurricane like this one, preparing them for a hurricane like this storm that's approaching Florida, and that's the Homeland Security advisor. While there is someone permanently in that role, that's not an acting capacity. What's interesting and what our reporting, Brianna, shows is that's a role that's been greatly diminished. Tom Bossert was the last Homeland Security advisor. He often reported directly to the president. You saw him doing televised briefings with reporters, participating in interviews, preparing when these storms came their way. But after John Bolton got hired as the National Security advisor last year, he pushed Tom Bossert out of his role. Then he downgraded that role of Homeland Security advisor to where it's someone who reports to Bolton, no longer the president, and is now a deputy assistant to the president. So what you're seeing is a greatly diminished role.

And, of course, all of this matters because how administrations respond to hurricanes or natural disasters like this, Brianna, is always a test. And as we've seen with past presidents, it can really shape their legacy.

KEILAR: Yes, and even in the case of President Trump, we saw that with Puerto Rico.


KEILAR: So that's -- it's definitely essential, as you point out.

Tell us about this shake-up that's going on over there, because the president's personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, is out, according to sources.

COLLINS: Yes, she's not a household name. Most viewers probably won't recognize her. But it's kinds of hard to overstate what a big role she played in this White House. She sat right outside the president's office. She had access to pretty sensitive schedules of the president's and essentially was seen by allies of this administration as a gateway to Trump. They knew they could call Madeleine and get a meeting with the president, get the president on the phone.

But she has been pushed out as of yesterday after, based on what our sources are telling us, the White House says she shared intimate information during an off-the-record dinner with reporters that then later got back to President Trump. And after two years in this role where she was seen as someone who was loyal to the president, she has now been pushed out of that role. Her White House phone has been disconnected. And people still back here at the White House were shocked by her abrupt departure yesterday, which we should note came while she was on a summer vacation.

But right now she is out of the White House and people here still seem to be reeling from that sudden departure.

KEILAR: All right, more on that later hopefully. All right, thank you so much, Kaitlan Collins, at the White House.

Just ahead, Joe Biden tells an emotional war story on the campaign trail. The problem is he appears to have conflated three separate events into one that did not happen. And now the Democratic frontrunner is responding to the criticism.

And pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong declaring we will not surrender after several of their high-profile leaders were arrested ahead of another mass demonstration that's planned for tomorrow.


[13:19:25] KEILAR: Multiple sources tell CNN the Trump administration is preparing to take money from military construction funds to build sections of the border wall ahead of the 2020 election. Now this move could put at risk projects for various training facilities in the U.S. and also overseas for the military.

I want to bring in CNN White House reporter Jeremy Diamond on this story.

And, Jeremy, do we know when these funds are going to be shifted?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We don't know exactly when, but what we do know is that White House officials have been having increasing discussions about this to prepare for this move in recent weeks. Inside the White House, those conversations have been ongoing.

[13:20:02] Look, this stems from back in February when the president signed this national emergency declaration over the situation at the southern border. And at the time White House officials said that part of that would include tapping into $3.6 billion in military construction funds, but White House officials also cautioned us at the time that this would likely be the last pot of money that the White House would go after.

First they would look at other funds appropriated by Congress. The counter drug money from the Department of Defense and Treasury asset forfeiture funds. So it is notable that the White House is now moving in the direction of going into these military construction funds.

Now, we are awaiting the Department of Defense to officially notify Congress and to officially take this action to move these funds over. We do expect that to happen soon. But those discussions are indeed ongoing.

And it comes, of course, as the president is pressing his aides to move forward as quickly as possible with building as much border wall as can be possibly done and before the 2020 election.


KEILAR: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

And this is the first state in the nation to hold a primary contest, but if Iowans want to pick a candidate in February, they are going to have to caucus in person. The DNC has just blocked a plan that would have allowed virtual votes by phone, citing concerns that the system can be easily hacked. The plan has also been scrapped in Nevada as well.

And with us we have "Reuters" White House correspondent Jeff Mason and "Politico" congressional reporter Melanie Zanona. So -- and we've all covered these caucuses, right? They last for a long time. They can be boring, but with moments of sort of excitement or drama. And this would have fundamentally changed really the turnout of voters or caucus goers in Iowa and thus the results, right?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Right. And the whole point of this was to try to comply with these new DNC rules meant to sort of increase participation, especially among these disenfranchised communities, voters who aren't getting out there. And, keep in mind, these caucuses also take place in the winter in Iowa, which I'm from the Midwest, I know how brutal those winters can be, they're time consuming, so the whole point of it was to try to get more people out. And candidates were already campaigning and strategizing under the assumption that these rules would be in place. But, ultimately, the DNC decided it was just too much of a risk.

KEILAR: And so you have Iowa. You also have Nevada, where they have caucuses. And now you have this shift. I wonder, what does this mean for those states and what does it mean for the candidates who have kind of now -- they're getting whiplash a little bit.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "REUTERS": Yes, well, it certainly means they'll have to change their strategies if they were strategizing already for a shift in the caucus process.


MASON: And it means the states will have to make some changes as well. But it's clear that from the DNC's perspective that their higher priority in this particular case was concern over security. And when you look at the election meddling in 2016 and how that impacted the Democratic candidate, it's not really a big surprise.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a very good point.

I want to talk about Joe Biden, because he's been defending an inaccurate story that he told at a town hall in New Hampshire. And let's play part of it so that we can show our viewers.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This guy climbed down a ravine, carried this guy up on his back under fire. And the general wanted me to pin the Silver Star on him.

I got up there and stand -- this is the God's truth, my word as a Biden, he stood at attention. I went to pin him. He said, sir, I don't want the damn thing. Do not pin it on me, sir. Please, sir, do not do that. He died! He died!


KEILAR: So, it turns out that Biden actually appeared to be conflating three different stories. He's doing it very dramatically. It's very believable. And yet, it's not real, right? It's not the truth. And here's what he told "The Washington Post."


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we've lost. And so that -- I don't know what the problem is. What is it that I said wrong?


KEILAR: Well, he -- facts, right? So the problem is that you don't actually have to falsify the story to make it inspirational because the truth is inspirational in various cases, including the ones he's referring to. But I wonder, Melanie, if the Republican opponent were someone other than President Trump, who is so fact challenged, if this wouldn't be a bigger deal for Joe Biden.

ZANONA: Right. I think you're absolutely right. And you also have to look at how the gaffes have really change in the era of Trump. They don't seem to carry as much weight as they used to. Republican voters have really forgiven Trump for a lot of his falsehoods. And what Biden did, he wasn't lying about his role in it, trying to make himself a hero. You know, he was actually just trying to get at the essence of this story, which was talking about this hero. But this could be problematic for Biden, I think, in the long run, not this story alone, but you have this pile-up of gaffes. And it really undercuts his own message that he's the most electable candidate. And it just hands more ammo to some of his Republican critics.

[13:25:00] KEILAR: He -- what do you think?

MASON: Well, I think that ironically President Donald Trump is going to make a heyday out of Vice President Joe Biden's gaffes. And it's clear that there will be people, and with good reason, saying, look, this is a false equivalency, but it is a liability for the vice president and it's one that his campaign certainly doesn't welcome. But there will be, you know, a close look at -- look, are the things that he's saying even, you know, close to the falsehoods that come out of the president of the United States' mouth.

ZANONA: Right. And "The Washington Post" actually just reported that it was like 12,000 falsehoods that Trump is up to. And also he said earlier this week that he had these two calls from the Chinese government about restarting the talks. Turns out that's not true. And those things actually affect the market. So that's a pretty big lie.

MASON: I was there that day. We went back and forth several times with him just trying to figure out whether that call had actually been made. It's unclear.

KEILAR: That is crazy.


KEILAR: Jeff, Melanie, thank you so much to both of you.

And I want to move on to our next story, if we can.

Just ahead, as the Florida coast is preparing for a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian, central Florida is focused on flooding in its dense lake regions. I'm going to speak to an emergency management director whose community is in the storm zone.