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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Idalia Now A Category 1 Hurricane As It Batters South Georgia; Idalia Brings Record Water Levels To Florida Gulf Coast; Forecast Update: Idalia Now A Tropical Storm; McConnell Freezes During News Conference In Kentucky. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 30, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with breaking news. After thrashing the gulf coast of Florida, Hurricane Idalia is now targeting Georgia and South Carolina with heavy rains, dangerously high winds, and serious threats of flash flooding. Idalia is now a category 1 storm, but it made landfall as an intense category 3 storm earlier today.

The area of Florida's Big Bend took the biggest hit. Big Bend is the part of Florida where the panhandle meets the west coast of the peninsula of Florida. This was the town of Steinhatchee just a few hours ago, so much standing water in the streets that only the roofs of these homes and businesses were visible.

Up the road near the town of Perry, Florida, the brutal winds toppled this gas station awning. The winds in the area gusted to 85 miles per hour earlier today.

And just take a look at this storm damage in Keaton Beach, also in the Big Bend area, where the eye of Idalia came ashore shortly before 8:00 this morning. This home has been ripped apart. The entire roof in front of the structure are gone, debris scattered all across the yard.

The city of St. Petersburg shared this video with us saying it rescued more than 75 people so far. More searches are still under way.

The National Weather Service also reported water rescues under way in parts of Georgia today.

We are, of course, learning about the tragic first deaths from this storm. Two people who were killed in weather-related traffic accidents in Florida this morning.

Idalia right now is barreling toward Savannah, Georgia, with the center of the storm 60 miles away.

And that's where we find CNN's Ryan Young, literally the calm before the storm.

Ryan, how have conditions changed there as Idalia is inching closer and closer to you? RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, this community has

been on high alert. It is a coastal town. So, they're aware of how dangerous a hurricane can be. We've been watching the water all day.

They're worried about this water rising, so much so that a lot of businesses have been putting a lot of preparation into this. As you can see, this business is closed. They have the sandbags stacked up here on the outside and we have been seeing this multiply all across the area. The government has also told people, look, we want people to stay home. We're not sure when the streets are going to flood.

But we want to show you something, Jake, the preparation has really got really extensive, especially at the businesses that are along the riverfront. That's what you call a water dam. They filled this up with water to make sure when the water hits the banks and comes toward all this commerce that the water stops here. And it is fortified with wood and water in this, so it moves, but at the same time the water stops here.

To bring you back this direction, Jake, because the conversation has been a lot about the wind. One of the largest bridges in Georgia, the Talmadge Bridge, which is so beautiful here, is just over there. They closed that at 2:00. They wanted to make sure that there were no cars going across that.

And just under the bridge, this is the perfect combination between commerce and the port authority, which comes right through here. They stopped all the ships from moving in. We heard all the planes have been canceled in coming to the airport.

You put all that together, people are worried about power going out. This has not been a rain event. What this has been so far for us is a wind event. But at 7:00, that could change and that's what they're concerned about. Low lying area, lots of wind, lots of water, it could all end up being pretty bad, especially with the images we have seen down south.

So far, though, so good, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, obviously, this is a coastal community. They have seen storms before, serious storms. What are you hearing from people who live there?

YOUNG: Yeah, Jake, I actually worked here probably about 20 years ago. Now, I talked to a few people in the community. They tell me they're watching the Savannah River. Last night, this river was pretty high. There are some people who are expecting if the water keeps coming, this water could come up on the riverfront.

But it's the other areas throughout town that always sort of flood during heavy rain events. They have seen the rain in Florida. They have been watching the images. They're concerned about that with the combination of the wet ground here having large old trees falling over because of the damp ground, the extra water and the heavy wind and when you add the power outages, you can understand how this could multiply pretty quickly. They talked about a curfew at one point but it sounds like they're

pulling back from that as the conditions have gotten worse.


But, again, we're talking about 7:00 tonight where this really could get kicked up here with heavier winds coming through. We've experienced some gusts above 50 so far but the sustained wind of above 70 is something that people are concerned about. We have seen people pull some furniture off the balconies to make sure that that doesn't become a projectile and fly into the street.

One last thing I want to throw at you, this was a holiday weekend, so people were packing into the city. We have seen a lot of foreigners from out of the state and out of the country come here. They're trapped here now. So they have to get through this hurricane preparation just like the rest of us -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Young, thanks so much.

Let's get an update now on the future of Hurricane Idalia. So many people in Savannah wondering, about that.

CNN's Chad Myers is in the CNN weather center right now.

Chad, what is the latest forecast?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's hard for Savannah for me to find the eye itself. The center is breaking up and that's great news because the storm has been overland for so long. Hurricane Center keeping that 75-mile-per-hour moniker there, but I think we're losing some of that. That will be 75-mile-per-hour gusts on some of the land- falling big storms, some of these outer bands.

Another thing going on here, as the storm rolls up the coast there will be beach erosion, all the way from the low country of South Carolina, possibly even toward Tybee Island as far south there, that's not far from where Ryan is, then all the way up to our North Carolina as those waves come on shore.

But another thing with those waves coming on shore will be the potential for tornadoes. There is the center, I guess, getting really big, not seeing an eye anymore, kind of surrounded by radar, surrounded by rain, most of the rain to the west of Savannah. I think we'll see some gusts to 50 again.

There is the heavy rainfall to the west, some spots over eight inches of rain already on the ground, almost half a million people now without power. It's going to take a long time for this to all get back up in the air again. I-10 still closed, debris all over at this point. Travel across northern Florida, southern Georgia not recommended and all the rainfall still to come, not only Lowcountry, but up toward Piedmont. That water has to run back down, you start to get to some topography and all of a sudden, you run the risk of flash flooding -- Jake.

TAPPER: Will this tornado threat continue all night?

MYERS: Yes, but in different locations. So, right now, the tornado looks -- we had a couple of tornadoes here not that far from Charleston. Not on the ground, but warnings.

But every time you see one of these big cells come on shore, there would be water spouts with it. And then you get a little bit of friction from the land, it also could spin on land and make a tornado. So, yes, that threat is still there.

But as the storm now moving almost 250 miles per hour, transits all the way up this band will be here and then there and then there. And so, yes, that tornado threat will move from the south to the north as the day goes on and then further to the south, that tornado threat completely goes away.

TAPPER: All right. Chad Myers, thanks so much. We'll check back with you.

This afternoon, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis updated hurricane relief efforts in his states where also announced reports of people looting in the hard hit town of Steinhatchee. Governor DeSantis warned there would be consequences for anyone caught breaking the law.

Let's get update on storm recovery now. I want to bring in Kevin Guthrie. He's the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

And, Kevin, what are your biggest concerns right now?

KEVIN GUTHRIE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Our biggest concern right now leading into the evening hours is going to be individuals that do not have power. Making sure that if they need power, they need to try to get to a shelter, we still have shelters across the state of Florida. So, again, if you're sitting in a situation, because we had quite a bit of sunshine here this afternoon, if things are starting to heat up and you're suffering from heat stress and what not, you'll want to get to a shelter for tonight until we get the rest of the power restored.

We're down to about 250,000 accounts without power and we're continuing to restore those and we're doing this very, very quickly.

TAPPER: So, your search and rescue teams, I'm told, they're out doing their first searches. But you warned the process could take longer than normal. Why is that?

GUTHRIE: Yeah, this topography in north Florida, Big Bend area, is completely different than Fort Myers. You know, last year, we had 10 urban search and rescue teams, five of those federal type one search and rescue teams there. But it was urban. It was block to block. We were able to clear lots of houses very quickly.

Up here in Big Bend area, in Tallahassee area, you may go five miles and hit two or three houses. Large plots of land, large areas to cover and search. So it just takes a long time to do that, especially if we have trees down, power lines down. We have to push through, cut through all of that. So, it does take quite a bit of time to get that done.

TAPPER: The head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, is heading down to visit Florida.


What do you need most from the federal government right now?

GUTHRIE: Well, we have a really good relationship with FEMA. Myself and Deanne have talked quite a bit. What we'll probably be talking about right now is, you know, the issues around the disaster relief fund, how is that going to impact this particular disaster, what are the projections -- what are we looking at as far as that goes? That's first and foremost on a lot of people's minds here.

Second thing we'll be talking about and we'll work through is, is there any negotiation of cost share? I know that's a presidential decision. And we'll obviously draft up our paper paperwork.

The third thing is, you know, we'll start to talk about right-sizing the response resources here and making sure that we -- anybody we can breakaway, we'll breakaway.

And then, fourth, we'll talk about the actual recovery centers that will be coming into the area, how many disaster recovery centers that we're going to need realistically? What's the best methodology? Do we use some mobile format or do we use some fixed large site?

So, those are all the things we'll be talking about when she gets here. She's due to land here about 6:30 p.m. local time.

TAPPER: All right. Kevin Guthrie, thank you so much. Best of luck with your job there.

Florida may be clear of Idalia's heavy winds, at least as of now, but the high water and damage is widespread. We're going to have more updates up and down the Florida coast coming up.

But, first, if you want to help victims of Hurricane Idalia, you can head to for ways to donate. You can also text 707070.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: And right now, Hurricane Idalia is making its way through southeastern Georgia, with about 75-mile-per-hour winds. The storm touched down in Florida earlier this morning, devastating Florida's island city, such as Cedar Key. The fire department there sharing these photos of the storm surge submerging homes and cars. Some trees left splintered along any area not under water. CNN viewer Michael Bobbitt captured the storm surge on the island. He

tells CNN he stayed behind to help those living in low lying areas. Helping them get to safety. Because Cedar Key is connected to mainland, Florida, by a series of bridges, he fears they may be trapped for some time.


MICHAEL BOBBITT, CEDAR KEY RESIDENT: The storm surge is -- has overwhelmed our downtown, our dock street, our boat ramps, the bridges on the way into town. It is going to be a while before anyone will be able to get on or off the island. We're effectively cut off from the world now.


TAPPER: Let's bring in Lieutenant Scott Tummond with the Levy County Sheriff's Office. That's south of Gainesville, Florida, covering the Cedar Key area.

You just heard from one of your residents who said at some point all of the bridges appeared to be under water. But what is the current status of those bridges and how soon will your responders be able to get to those people on the island?

LT. SCOTT TUMMOND, LEVY COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE SPOKESPERSON: Well, currently, we're on the downside of the high tide cycle. So, the water started to recede. As soon as the winds drop below the critical levels, we had teams on the island checking those that decided to hunker down and weather out the storm there.

We very quickly went through our recovery and rescue operations. Checking the folks on Cedar Key and other coastal community of Yankee Town, probably within I would say two hours, we had contact with those people and ensured their safety. We're very fortunate. We only have one minor injury and that was due to a fall and zero loss of life.

TAPPER: At least 75 people have been rescued so far. What are you seeing on the ground? What challenges are first responders facing as they try to get to people to save them?

TUMMOND: As any other community like ours, the challenge is getting around the downed trees. We have a full complement of deputy sheriffs out there with chainsaws, plus other county infrastructure here, and on top of that, a huge populous of national guardsmen here helping us.

Can't say enough to Governor DeSantis for throwing all the resources he possibly had available to us as we weathered this storm. We're now in a recovery mode. I want to urge our citizens that want to try to re-enter these flooded affected communities, give it a little bit of time, let the water get out of there, that will make it safer for you.

Our community of Cedar Key, they have a well-rehearsed re-entry plan. If you try to get to Cedar Key, just to take a look, you're going to be denied access. So, be safe when you're out there trying to get to your affected homes and just give it a little bit of time. TAPPER: Yeah. No time for sight-seeing for sure. Right now, there are

more than 13,000 power outages across Levy County. How fast do you think power will be restored? Is there any sort of viable timeline?

TUMMOND: The timeline, I'm not sure of. But I can tell you in past events like this, our local power cooperatives, they are quick to respond. These guys are topnotch. On top of that, we have these contract companies that have come in to aid in resupply of power to the affected communities. I would -- I would suspect that unless it is under water, we're only looking at a matter of a few days. I just know how topnotch these guys are.

TAPPER: What about food resources for families that do not have power? Obviously, you can't keep anything refrigerated if you don't have electricity.

TUMMOND: Well, when we went to recovery, we immediately started setting up pods in our communities. I can't tell you right now how much of a resource we have out there. I know it is coming if it is not already on site.

So, unfortunately, this is not our first time we had to practice this drill and -- but no loss of life, that's what I'm most proud of.

TAPPER: Yeah. Knock on wood. Let's hope that remains.

Lieutenant Scott Tummond, thank you so much for your time.


I really appreciate it.

The pictures along Florida's Gulf Coast show high water in town after town. We're going to talk to a mayor trying to manage the emergency situation next.

Plus, another concerning moment for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He appeared to freeze yet again when taking questions from reporters. We'll show you what happened with the 81-year-old earlier today.


TAPPER: And we're continuing with our coverage of Hurricane Idalia. The storm surge causing major flooding in parts of Florida, including Tampa and St. Petersburg.


CNN's Carlos Suarez is live for us now from Gulfport, which is right next to St. Petersburg.

Carlos, how severe is the flooding there?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there are parts of this city that are still under water and other parts that have started to dry out. This part here in Gulfport, as you can see, has started to dry out a bit. Just a few hours ago, you really could not drive up and down just off the coast out here because of some of these strong surge that we saw associated with this storm.

Some of the recovery efforts are well under way here on this same block here. A couple of businesses have already started cleaning up. They're making sure that their businesses might be in shape to hopefully reopen sometime tomorrow.

We talked to the owners of that dog place right there, they sell some pet supplies as well as this Greek restaurant and they told us they got several inches of rain because of this storm. But considering how much of a threat this was, they're happy that right now it seems like they're able to go ahead and get things going in the next couple of days.

Now, we are being joined right now by the city's mayor, Mayor Henderson.

Thanks for joining us. How are you, sir?


SUAREZ: So, we talked earlier today. Tell me how is the city looking elsewhere?

HENDERSON: Otherwise, rain and wind-wise, we did great. We got way less than we expected, lot less downed limbs. We had about 700 customers without power, the majority of whom have been restored at this point. They came out and got quickly.

The city was well-prepared. The one that got us was having the storm surge come rolling in on top of the king tide, which pushes all the water right on top of us. So, you saw how quickly it receded once the tide went out.

SUAREZ: You were surprised by this right here. You were telling me, in a couple of hours you couldn't get anywhere near it.

HENDERSON: Absolutely, yeah. This was three and a half feet deep in water, extending up another block from here. So, we got businesses impacted. We got city buildings impacted by that and lots of residences impacted by that.

SUAREZ: And just on the other side, you told me the flooding is still pretty bad?

HENDERSON: Yeah, significant. It will drain out a little slower there where the municipal marina is, but a lot of those streets a little bit longer than the seawall, so that tends to retain a little bit longer. So, once we get a couple of more cycles of tides, we expect that to be gone. But as you can see, these folks have a lot to clean up in the next couple of days.

SUAREZ: Your folks did a good job in taking care of themselves and taking notice of that mandatory evacuation order? HENDERSON: For the most part, we had some issues this morning. A lot

of looky-loos wanting to come down and do a little hurricane tour and see the damage. We don't want people exposing themselves to this water. It has hydrocarbons from vehicles and it's got bacteria in it. This place's wildlife, you don't know what you're dealing with it. It's not your typical water you want to swim in. So, we have been trying to keep folks out of that. And it also it hinders, it hinders the recovery process when we've got a ton of people down in the evacuation zone.

SUAREZ: I was here very same spot last year for Hurricane Ian and the folks took that storm just as serious. Your sense of how things went this time around?

HENDERSON: Really well. I mean, the majority of our folks do good when this comes. Our city staff does a remarkable job. Our emergency responders do a great job. We prepped the same time every time we anticipate the worst and hope for the best. And most of our residents are fantastic.

Every once in a while, you get somebody that wants to do something a little bit daring or dumb and then we have to help people out of those situations. That's what we discourage because we don't want our people to put themselves in jeopardy because someone else didn't -- didn't do the right thing.

SUAREZ: Mayor Henderson, thank you so much for taking time out, sir.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

SUAREZ: Appreciate it.

Jake, as you can see, this part of Pinellas County still dealing with some of the flooding associated with the storm surge. But the good news is at least in this part of town, where we are now, in Gulfport, the folks out here have started the cleanup effort considering where things were just a few hours ago -- Jake.

TAPPER: Good news, indeed.

Carlos Suarez and Gulfport Mayor Samuel Henderson, thanks to both of you.

Joining us now is Rob Herrin. He's the public information officer for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Rob, what have you and your team been dealing with in the Tampa, Florida, region over the last 24 hours?

ROB HERRIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY FIRE RESCUE: You know, there was a pretty good amount of storm surge flooding -- surge-related flooding. We had that mobilized early in the event that were placed throughout the county to initiate quick rapid needs assessments after the storm safely passed for our first responders. And then we followed that up technical rescue teams if needed. I'm

happy to report that Hillsborough County Fire Rescue is demobilized and, you know, we cleared all areas of any kind of threat in public safety in the 900-plus square miles that we protect in Hillsborough County.

TAPPER: What do you make of the storm surge as you see it? Have you or your colleagues ever seen anything like it before?

HERRIN: Well, yeah, but, you know, it really hasn't been in the Tampa area recently and I'm hopeful that our locals and the folks who when we say that four to six-foot storm surge is predicted and that the level A evacuation has been ordered, that now they kind of have a benchmark of what that means.


And, you know, there were some good coverage, some good images that showed it. It extended pretty well into a lot of the residential areas of those very zones that we warned against people evacuating. So, we're hopeful that they listened to us. We're hopeful they keep us in mind, and that if something threatens our area that is now up to a 10, maybe even 15 foot storm surge, they know what four six feet does. So, now they can kind of conceptualize what 10 to 15 feet will do and evacuate when asked to do so.

TAPPER: According to data released last year from the U.S. Census bureau, the county surrounding Tampa Bay are driving Florida's population growth. When you combine a growing population in an area where the climate crisis is making hurricanes more intense, more dangerous, are there enough emergency personnel to handle these evolving natural disasters?

HERRIN: I'm happy to report, yes, there are. We had a callback of a second shift of firefighters. So, we had several hundred firefighters standing by at our 46 locations that are scattered throughout Hillsborough County.

And, yes, there are growing pains when you have such a beautiful community as we have and people want to live here. The good news is, you know, we're prepared for that. We're prepared to respond. Having played off this playbook a year ago for Ian and Ian not really hitting us like we thought it would be, we're not too far removed from doing just what we've done over the last couple of days.

TAPPER: All right. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Rob Herrin, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

HERRIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Idalia ripped up an old tree right in front of the governor's mansion in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee.

CNN's Brian Todd has been surveying other hard hit areas in that part of Florida. We're going to check in with him. Keep it here. You're watching THE LEAD. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: These photos that you're seeing on your screen right now just in to CNN, showing some of the storm damage from Hurricane Idalia. This is in Pasco County, just north of Tampa, Florida. The county's emergency director says approximately 6,000 homes were just filled with water and some were burned. Parts of Pasco County were under a mandatory evacuation order before landfall.

Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're tracking hurricane Idalia, where it is going and the destruction it has left behind.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, for us.

Brian, you spoke to a homeowner whose home suffered severe damage. Tell us more.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. And this -- this was a really close call for this family. And I'm going to show you just how close. This is a home not far from downtown Tallahassee. This can illustrate what we're about to show you. It can illustrate not only how close some families came to absolute disaster, but the dangers that still remain in some of these neighborhoods.

But take a look at this first. This is a large pine tree. Look at how much the root system became completely decimated and it got uprooted, picked up the entire fence and fell that way and came across the fence and then came across the road. They've done a very good job of clearing the road, by the way, since we were here earlier.

But just take a look at the ferocity and the force with which this tree got uprooted. And come on over here, we'll show you just how close it came. If this tree goes maybe a foot, another 45 degree angle to the right, then this family inside is really in some trouble.

So, we did speak to them, very nice young couple and had their daughter in there when it happened. They were very relieved, of course, that it kind of fell the other way, but they were -- they had a lot of anxious moments at the height of the storm. But we can also show you that people here are not out of danger yet.

Even though the street has been cleared, but take a look, a lot of downed power lines. The power line is down over there. There's another power line down the street here.

Officials are saying, you know, if you -- if you evacuated and you want to come back to your house, don't really come back if the neighborhood is like this because downed power lines can be killer, some are still live and it's just very, very dangerous to try to navigate. Another thing and maybe you can hear it behind me.

That house back here is running a generator for power. This house back here, I'll just kind of pivot and Jonathan will take in here, they're running a generator off their truck over here. That is also the cause of some real damage.

Officials here in Florida, Louisiana, always tell us that a big cause of death are people improperly running their generator maybe inside their home and dying of accidents inside the home. But these people seem to have it under control.

We can also give you an update, Jake. We just spoke to county officials who say that in Leon County, a little bit more than 38,200 customers are still without power and officials told me earlier what they're telling people is don't let go out, let the power crews navigate the streets. Get out of their way. Even though it's sunny out and the storm has passed, you've got to let these first responders and these power crews do their work to get things back to normal, Jake.

TAPPER: Brian Todd, thanks so much.

And we just showed you those dramatic images from Pasco County, Florida. Let's get an update on the recovery efforts from Pasco County Administrator Mike Carballa.

Thanks so much for joining us, Mike. What's the extent of the damage in Pasco County as some of your emergency personnel are able to get out there with the water beginning to recede?

MIKE CARBALLA, PASCO COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR: Yeah, thanks. A lot of our damage we experience is along the coast. So, that's storm surge really inundated a lot of homes. And we're estimating anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 homes in our county, received anywhere from a foot up to five feet of water, along our coastline.


I was out there this morning, watching a lot of our first responders switch to water rescue operations for folks that unfortunately didn't heed the evacuation orders that we had issued.

TAPPER: You've lived in Pasco County for nearly two decades. How does Idalia compare to other storms?

CARBALLA: I'll tell you, I would say in recent memory, this is -- this is one of the worst. I mean, we went through, obviously, the hurricanes of 2004 with Florida. The Tampa Bay area in general has been fairly lucky. And again, with Ian, we had been preparing for a direct hit last year before it made that turn to unfortunately affect our friends in southwest Florida.

This one here, we got buzz sawed along the side. And quite honestly, while the effects could have been course, we definitely took it on the chin. It -- I would say that this, as far as comparison, this is probably one of the worst flooding events in terms of water that we've probably seen this county probably since the no-name storm back in 1993.

TAPPER: So, you talked about emergency personnel going out and rescuing people. Has everyone been rescued and is everyone accounted for? Did Pasco County avoid any serious injuries or fatalities? CARBALLA: Yeah, as far as I know, we did. I did receive one report of

a fatality in a traffic stop earlier this morning, a single car accident. I'm not sure the details of that.

But, yeah, our crews were able to work seamlessly with our sheriff's office and our fire and rescue teams. We've got everybody out that wanted to get out. Folks really got scared seeing the water rise and not stop. Other folks stayed put and as the waters receded, it was fine. We've finally been able to get our shelters clear to allow things to start to return to normal. But again, I can't underscore the importance of heeding evacuation orders.

If, you know, I was having conversations with our fire chief this afternoon and it's his opinion and I share it if that storm turned, just like, let's say an Ian did, a last minute turn, then it hit directly, we had shelter space available for almost 12,000 of our citizens ready for evacuation in those zones, and maybe we took in a couple of hundred, but if it turned, we'd be doing a lot of body recovery right now, Jake, and that's unfortunate.

People really need to really take these orders seriously and we only get lucky so many times.

TAPPER: Pasco County Administrator Mike Carballa, thank you so much, sir. I appreciate your time.

We have much more coming up on the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.

But next, the concerning moment earlier today when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze during another news conference. What is his staff saying about it? Stay with us.



TAPPER: And welcome back to THE LEAD. We're staying on top of the latest forecast track of Hurricane Idalia as it barrels through the state of Georgia. We are expecting an update on the storm from the National Hurricane Center in just moments. And we will bring that to you at the top of the hour.

Until then, though, let us turn now momentarily to our politics lead.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had another episode where he froze and was unresponsive during a news conference. It happened today in Covington, Kentucky.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): What's my thought about what?

REPORTER: Running for re-election in 2026.

MCCONNELL: Oh, that's --

AIDE: Did you hear the question, Senator? Running for re-election in 2026?


AIDE: All right, I'm sorry, we'll need a minute.


AIDE: Want to head outside, sir? Want to come with us?

MCCONNELL: I'm okay.


AIDE: Somebody else have a question? Please speak up.

REPORTER: What efforts does Daniel Cameron going to have to make on the campaign trail to win Kentuckians over in November?

AIDE: Senator, Daniel Cameron, do you have a comment on Daniel Cameron?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think the governor's race is going to be very close. Far and away, the best candidate we could have nominated. And as stated, we've gone increasingly Republican, the governor's only Democrat left. So I'm optimistic that Daniel will be our next governor of Kentucky.


TAPPER: The incident is not dissimilar from what we saw at the Capitol just over a month ago. Senator McConnell who is 81, was hospitalized in March after suffering a concussion after he fell at a hotel here in Washington, D.C. Since then, CNN reported on other instances in which McConnell fell that his office had not disclosed.

Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Manu, first to you. Obviously it is difficult to watch this. How is Senator McConnell doing now? What is his staff saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his staff is saying that he is feeling, quote, fine and they said that he was going to consult with a doctor before he had a second event in Kentucky, a private event, later in the day. But there is no word yet on what the doctor told him, what the diagnosis was or why exactly he froze.


They did say that he paused because he was feeling light headed at that moment. That's a similar explanation that they gave back in July when he froze for roughly 30 seconds during that news conference. After that incident happened, I had asked McConnell whether or not that was related to the fall that he had in March where he hit his head, suffered a concussion, broke ribs. He didn't say if that was the case, simply said he is fine. So, not much indicating about what the -- no real response yet from his office about the underlying cause of all this, but undoubtedly, causing some concern. He has been on the phone, Jake, with some other Republicans, including the number two Republican John Thune, someone who can potentially succeed McConnell as leader. Thune said that in a statement that he -- that McConnell was sounding like his usual self, was in good spirits, but didn't provide any other details other than that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sanjay, you're a neurosurgeon. I don't want to be rude about it, but that's not somebody who just feels lightheaded. What do you see in the video of this latest episode?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, what we see is something that essentially is freezing, and this is a term that's often used when describing various neurological things. He's obviously freezing, he's not saying anything, his face is sort of frozen in that position.

But also, even his hands, if you look at that video, his hands are attached to the lectern, his aid comes over, tries to get him to try to raise his hand. He's sort of really holding on very closely. It's very tightly, I should say, to the lectern.

You know, it -- there's a lot of things that come to mind, the more you know about the various neurological conditions, the longer the list is, but certain things like stroke or things like that are probably less likely. He gets -- he walks away and he's moving his arms and legs as he walks away.

Seizure is less likely, as well, about 30 seconds where he appears to have some component of freezing. I think what really struck me in that, I think Manu alluded to this, is that, you know, his aides don't seem that surprised by this. So we've seen this episode a couple of times but you get the impression that it happens more often and this is something they are used to dealing with.

And if I remember correctly, as Manu has reported, last time, it's not even clear that he saw a doctor after these episodes, so they don't seem like they are entirely surprising. So while it's, you know, as you say, hard to watch, doesn't seem like this is lightheadedness, it seems to be something that is really ongoing, someone who has Parkinsonian-like condition for example, whose medications are wearing off, or something like that, that is something that can explain this behavior but as I said, Jake, it's a long list of possibilities here.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, again, I don't mean this in a dis-compassionate way at all, my mom turns 81, literally today, my dad is 83. We all see the effects of aging not only on ourselves, I'll exempt you from that, Manu, but on our parents.

But it's -- this is concerning. The freezing up, what do make, Sanjay, of both McConnell and his aides reportedly -- repeatedly asking reporters to speak up. That doesn't seem all that unusual necessarily?

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, look, once you get over the age of 60, and I'm not there yet, but one in three people will have hearing loss, when you get closer to 85, he's 81, but you get close to 85, one in two people have hearing loss.

But, you know, again, to your point, these questions were pretty loud, he was able to hear them afterwards. Is this more sort of being distracted by what else is going on in his body, and his brain at that point, these freezing episodes? Is it buying time in some way to allow him to not be freezing as much, you know?

So there's different possibilities here. It could be just hearing loss, which again is not that unusual but it does seem like there's something more going on here.

TAPPER: And, Manu, with Senator Dianne Feinstein having her difficulties, not to mention the discussions about the ages of both President Biden and Donald Trump, there's a renewed conversation about our aging political class.

RAJU: Yeah, and McConnell's future itself, I mean, he just won reelection in 2020, the question is will he run for reelection in 2026. He's the longest-serving Republican leader -- leader of any party in the Senate history. The question is, will he continue to serve beyond this Congress? He says that he will serve for the next year but what about the year after that, if he steps aside then, that will open up a whole effort to try to replace them, and effort that perhaps is already underway.

So, we'll see how that takes place but a lot of questions about his future after this moment, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, and our thoughts are with him and his family.

Manu Raju, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks to both of you.


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