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Evacuations Underway in Florida as Hurricane Idalia Approaches Gulf Coast; Police Chief of St. Petersburg, Florida, Interviewed on Preparations for Hurricane Idalia; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Interviewed on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Indicating Possible Impeachment Inquiry into President Biden. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 08:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Idalia churns towards Florida's Big Bend. You're looking at live footage from our drone over Clearwater Beach. That is where Sara Sidner is. Derek Van Dam, our meteorologist, is also down there. Sara, a lot of preparation. Very quiet right now, but what are you seeing? What's expected on the ground there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the thing. When you look at that picture from the drone, it looks like paradise. It is beautiful right now. But there are preparations underway. There are evacuations underway. There are some mandatory and some voluntary evacuations now in 20 counties. Why is that? Because a storm is coming.

We know now that it's no longer a tropical storm. It has gained in strength to a category one hurricane, and we are expecting that to grow even more powerful as this hurricane hits those warm Gulf waters and intensifies to potentially a category three. And just to remind people what kind of damage a category three storm can do, it is not about the wind so much as it is about the water. A category three storm, you will remember, hit in Louisiana in 2005, hurricane Katrina, and you remember the story there with the breaking of the levees. It was all about the power of water.

That is the fear right now. The storm surge, you see how these beaches are so flat. That water can be pushed right up and into very populated areas. So they are telling people to get to safer ground. You don't have to go hundreds of miles. You don't have to go to another state, but you do have to get to safer ground, and that is all spelled out for people.

I want to go he go to our Derek Van Dam. He has been beside me all day, but now he has got another view as he watches this hurricane get ever closer. Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sara, you've got to check this out. We are in Clearwater. You were talking about the warm Gulf of Mexico waters. We are beyond bathtub waters. We are in hot tub territory. The temperatures are running two to three degrees Fahrenheit above where they should be this time of year. So that's like jet fuel for an incoming area. As it approaches this area, it's going to feed off of those warm waters.

But as Sara was talking about, how this coastline is so susceptible, particularly the west coast of the Florida peninsula, the Gulf side, right, and into the Big Bend area. Let me show an aerial perspective to give you an idea of what we're talking about here.

So side by side, hopefully, you have got this up, you can see the storm surge projections. eight to 12 feet near Cedar Key. That is incredible. But look at the vast miles of flat beaches that go as far as the sky can see. There's Clearwater Beach just to the north. And we are in Sand Key particularly just to the south of this.

And we are going to get on the granular details. The National Hurricane Center has this storm surge prediction map. And what you are looking at is Tampa Bay. And those shading of orange, that's anywhere from four to seven feet, perhaps up to nine feet of storm surge inundation that's above normally dry ground. Near Clearwater, we zoom in a little bit closer where I am located, and you see the yellows and the orange right on that barrier island where we are currently set up with our camera crew.

But let's go a little further north into Cedar Key, and what you are going to see there is a lot of red and a lot of orange. That is because that topography of the Big Bend, it's like a catcher's mitt literally taking all of that piled up water from the very shallow and very warm Gulf of Mexico that you see behind me and it's going to pile up all that water. Remember, Hermine, back in 2016, was only a category one. That brought six feet of storm surge to Cedar Key. We are projecting eight to 12 feet that could inundate that area. Sara?

SIDNER: Again, I cannot stress this enough. It looks so beautiful where you are, Derek Van Dam, which is just a few hundred yards behind me. It is so tempting to come out and to play in that bathtub-like or, as you said, hot tub-like water. But authorities are telling people that if you do that, if you stay too long, you will not have time to get to safety, you will not have time to get out of the way of danger.

And so right now, you can come back to this. It will be here. Bu right now, it is a time for those who are in evacuation zones to do so, to get to a safer place. And in the meantime, do not forget about, by the way, your pets. There are plenty of places that have shelters for pets and people so that you can take your entire family with you.

Derek Van Dam, thank you so much for a view there from the very warm ocean. We're going to toss it now back to Phil.

Actually, no. No, we're not. We are not going to do that. What we are going to do is pay attention to our executive producer, Carolyn Cremen, who tells me that St. Petersburg police chief Anthony Holloway is here with us. Sir, can you hear me?


CHIEF ANTHONY HOLLOWAY, ST. PETERSBURG POLICE: Yes, I can. And good morning. SIDNER: Good morning to you. Thank you for being up bright and early

with us as we are finally seeing how beautiful it is here on the west coast of Florida. But there is danger on the way. What are you expecting there in St. Petersburg, and what are you telling the citizens of St. Petersburg to be on the lookout for and to do?

HOLLOWAY: Good morning again. And you are absolutely correct. For the next eight hours, we are asking people that are in the flood area, zone eight, to use these eight hours right now to gather up your belongings, get your family, your pets, and move out of those areas.

We have here in St. Pete, we have four shelters that are open. We just want people to move from danger, because we know around 4:00 p.m., that's when we are going to see our first rain bands come in. And somewhere between 9:00 tonight and 9:00 in the morning, the weather is going to get pretty bad. And we know that the wind is going to be somewhere between 40 to 60 miles an hour. And like you were talking about earlier, those surges are going to be what we're really worried about, about flooding in our city.

SIDNER: Those storm surges, I know that Tampa has certainly experienced hurricanes before. Give people a sense, because having gone through these many times as a Floridian, having gone through these as a reporter, I know you have gone through these as a chief, can you give me some sense of what happens with emergency services, because when this storm comes in, and it's packing 60, 70, 80-mile-an- hour winds, you can't function the same way that people may expect you to, which is why you tell people to evacuate, correct?

HOLLOWAY: Yes, that's what people are aware of, that when a storm is really bad, that we have to take the first responders, we have to move in out of the bad weather so we can make sure that we can respond to those calls. So the people that decide that they do not want to evacuate, they have got to remember to shelter in place. You are going to be on your own until the weather dies down, and then we will be able to come back out and rescue you.

So we're just telling people, if you are going to stay at home, shelter in place. But we really prefer that you move out of the area so we don't have to get tied up trying to make rescue that we get back up and going as soon as possible.

SIDNER: I think the worst thing that you can do is put other people in danger, and your officers and firefighters and rescue teams will be put in danger if someone is in dire need of help because of the storm surge. And it is the water.

We can keep reminding people about this because it can't be said enough that it is the water, it is the storm surge that is the most dangerous, it is the most deadly in every storm that we see. We do pay a lot of attention to the winds because they are very visual, but it is the water that is extremely dangerous, that is very hard to get away from if you don't evacuate in time.

Sir, thank you so much, Police Chief Anthony Holloway of St. Petersburg. All the best of luck to you and your team there as you await this storm. You not only have to protect people, you also live there, so you have to protect your family an your workforce. I appreciate you are time, sir.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you very much.

SIDNER: All right, now, Carolyn, can I toss back to Phil?

MATTINGLY: Sara, I was ready. I was ready, but that was a much more -- much more important person to talk to than me given what's going on down there, very important message there from the chief place, very important reporting going on. We are going to stay in touch with you and the team throughout the course of the next hour, as we have been throughout the course of the morning, so we keep an eye on this hurricane as it approaches Florida's Gulf coast.

But also coming up, House Republicans, they are gearing up to launch possible impeachment inquiry into President Biden. How are Democrats going to react to that? We're going to ask the highest ranking Democrat in the House, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's going to join us live for an exclusive interview. That's next.



MATTINGLY: While Donald Trump stares down 91 felony charges across four different criminal cases, some House Republicans are turning their attention, have been turning their attention toward President Joe Biden.

Sources tell CNN that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other top Republicans have privately started to strategize about how to move forward with an impeachment inquiry into Biden this fall. It's something McCarthy has been hinting at publicly for several months.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: The whole determination here is how the Bidens handle this. If they provide us the documents, there wouldn't be a need for an impeachment inquiry. But if they withhold the documents and fight like they have now to not provide to the American public what they deserve to know, we will move forward with an impeachment inquiry when we come back into session.


MATTINGLY: Joining us now, New York Congressman and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Sir, thanks so much for taking the time.


MATTINGLY: I want to start there, because it feels like it's no longer an if, but a when. Potentially as soon as the end of next month is what our colleague Melanie Zanona, who I know you know quite well, has been reporting. Your response to Republicans launching an impeachment inquiry into the president? JEFFRIES: Throughout this year the American people have been forced

to deal with a do nothing extreme Republican Congress that has done nothing to make a difference in the economy, nothing to make a difference with respect to job creation, nothing as it relates to health care affordability, nothing as to relates to inflation, nothing as it relates to public safety.

They have nothing to show for their majority throughout the year. And so as a natural consequence of that, they just continue to take orders from Donald Trump, their puppet master in chief, who has directed them to persecute and to go after Joe Biden, which may take the form of an illegitimate impeach inquiry.

MATTINGLY: Do you feel -- one of the things our colleagues have been reporting, Melanie and others, has been they are not going to have a vote to launch the impeachment inquiry because they don't have 218 votes, mainly because front line Republicans, the majority makers, many of which come from your state of New York, aren't necessarily there yet. I've talked to some of them behind the scenes. They say that. Do you feel politically it would be advantageous for you if they decide to go down this path?

JEFFRIES: I will leave the political assessments to others. I think that from a policy perspective, it's exactly the wrong thing do. As House Democrats, we want to continue to focus on delivering for everyday Americans, making a difference in the lives of everyday Americans. There are so many challenges that we need to continue to confront. President Biden is leading in an extraordinary way, trying to build an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, as opposed to the top down, which had been the case under Republican Presidents. And we're going to continue to support him in that effort.


There also are issues related to gun safety that we should be tackling. This is a unique problem, and it's tragic. We shouldn't have children who have to familiarize themselves with active shooter drills as early as kindergarten all across the country. We should be tackling gun safety and some common-sense measures that we support. But instead, what we see are Republicans with this do-nothing extreme majority wasting the time and the treasure of the American people.

And that's unfortunate.

MATTINGLY: I do want to ask you about both the economy and, on the Jacksonville, shooting and gun safety in a second, but I do have one more. We had the key Republican House Republicans yesterday wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding information about the investigation into Hunter Biden, saying, quote, "Since the early days of its investigation concerning Hunter Biden, DOJ has deviated from its standard investigative procedure and afforded Hunter Biden special privileges not afforded to other Americans."

I understand your point about policy and what you guys have been focusing on as a caucus. Buyouts also have a role, your ranking members have a role in kind of this back and forth when they go down this path defending the President, defending the President's family to some degree. Are you confident when you look at what the Justice Department has done, when you look at the investigations into Hunter Biden that the Republicans have pursued up to this point, that there hasn't been any wrongdoing, everything's been above board?

JEFFRIES: Yes, I'm extremely confident. The American people know fundamentally that Joe Biden is a good and decent man who's dedicated his life to public service and will continue to serve the people honorably and admirably. On the other hand, you've got people like Marjorie Taylor Green and George Santos and others who are running the show amongst the House Republican majority.

It's an extreme group of people who aren't really trying to improve the lives of the American people. As Democrats, we're going to continue to put people over politics and to focus on lowering costs, better-paying jobs, safer communities, growing the economy for the middle class, and delivering. That will be a clear contrast that will be available to us to present to the American people in November of 2024.

MATTINGLY: There's a possibility that contrast gets laid bare with the deadline that's coming up at the end of next month. It's the fiscal deadline. Spending bills have to be done or a continuing resolution has to be signed. I've lived in the appropriations world for many years, and if I go down that rabbit hole, my team's probably not going to be happy with me. But to top line it to some degree there is no conference right now.

Neither chamber has started to reconcile all twelve appropriations bills. Nobody thinks that's going to happen. Have you spoken to Speaker McCarthy about a continuing resolution? Do you think that the government's going to shut down?

JEFFRIES: I have not spoken to Speaker McCarthy about a continuing resolution recently. I do expect that at some pointing time, within the next week or so, we'll begin to intensify those conversations. I have of course spoken to the Biden administration and spoke yesterday to Leader Chuck Schumer.

We all agree that the right thing to do is to make sure that we can continue to provide funding for the government so that the federal government can provide for the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people. That is our fundamental responsibility.

But again, dealing with an extreme group of people, this extreme MAGA Republican majority that right now temporarily holds the gavels in the House of Representatives, there's an inability to function, to do the basics of what is required as members of Congress and to focus on solving problems for the American people.

So, the extreme MAGA Republicans are marching us toward a reckless government shutdown because what they want to try to do is jam their right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.

That's exactly the wrong thing that should occur. MATTINGLY: So, do you think though, that McCarthy controls the floor?

Do you think a shutdown is inevitable if that's the path they pursue?

JEFFRIES: It remains to be seen. We're going to work as hard as we can to stop a reckless shutdown from taking place. But ultimately that is the area that the extreme MAGA Republicans are going to have to make a decision about whether they want to govern or whether they want to continue to pedal their right-wing ideology.

MATTINGLY: Now aside element of this, the administration sent up an emergency spending proposal that included both disaster funding, we're talking about hurricanes right now as well but also included additional Ukraine funding. If you pull up, I think the latest polling nowhere the American public is on Ukraine polling, I think it was 45% say yes and more 55% say no.

It's a major issue inside the Republican conference. By the end of September will the additional Ukraine funding be approved?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think that it's going to be important for us to continue to be there for the Ukrainian people as they fight valiantly against Russia. This is a conflict not just between Ukraine and Russia, it's a conflict between democracy and autocracy.


Between freedom and tyranny, between truth and propaganda. And we should continue to stand on the side of the free world. At the same time, we have to provide for the needs of the American people. And so, as House Democrats, we're going to continue to work with President Biden to implement the historic legislative agenda that was passed in the previous Congress under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi in partnership with Democrats in the Senate.

The Biden administration implemented the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will ensure clean water in every single community fix our crumbling bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, water sewer systems create good paying jobs. We need to implement the Chips and Science Act, which is bringing domestic manufacturing jobs back home to the United States of America. Incredibly important.

The Inflation Reduction Act to combat the climate crisis, lower drug costs, give Medicare the ability to negotiate and reduce prices for the seniors of America. These are the things that we will continue to focus on.

MATTINGLY: And that's exactly what I wanted to ask you about because in terms of the two years prior to now, from a legislative achievement standpoint, in terms of policy priorities, you mentioned chips, you mentioned infrastructure, you mentioned the Inflation Reduction Act.

I'm not sure scale-wise you have seen something, particularly with the very slim majorities that President Biden had. And yet when you take a look at the polling, and I know you're very familiar with this, you've been in the districts talking in the last several weeks. CNN poll from earlier this month shows that despite the positive

macroeconomic indicators, despite those legislative victories, 63% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden has handled the economy. That disconnect, I know, has flummoxed and frustrated White House officials from when I covered them for the last two-plus years.

Why do you think that is? How do you rectify that in your mind?

JEFFRIES: Well, President Biden, the administration, Democrats, and the House and Senate. We've been busy governing. And that's important because we've delivered historic results for the American people on issue after issue after issue, including being there for our veterans who've been exposed to toxic substances and burn pits and Agent Orange or being there for the American people in terms of gun safety legislation.

For the first time in 30 years, we've been governing. We've been busy getting things done over the next twelve months or so we'll have an opportunity to both implement those accomplishments and at the same time communicate them to the American people.

Not to say to the American people, reward us, but we can list those accomplishments, elevate them to say to the American people, trust us that we've made progress as it relates to the economy and kitchen table pocketbook issues and we will continue to build upon that progress, to do more to make life better for everyday Americans.

MATTINGLY: A very critical announcement from the administration today in terms of the ten drugs that they'll be able to start negotiating prices on, according to the White House just moments ago. I do want to ask you; you've been out in the districts. You'd be the next speaker, presumably, if your caucus abides, if Democrats take control of the House, the majority for Republicans is very slim.

If you flip your New York seats, you have a path to the majority. If you hold on when you look around New York right now, do you believe you will flip those seats? And how many do you think you can flip in 2024?

JEFFRIES: We're going to work very hard in order to deliver the majority here in New York and all across the country so we can continue to get work done, do a job for the American people that is designed to deliver for them more money in their pockets, more freedom, certainly reproductive freedom. Freedom to vote, as well as more time with their families.

These are basic things that unite, we believe, Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. That's our message as we move forward. People over politics, delivering, making life better, building an economy.

MATTINGLY: Do you have the recruits to do that?

JEFFRIES: Yeah, I'm confident even with some of the primaries that are breaking out right now, primaries are a good thing and it's part of American democracy. And I am confident that whoever emerges in these primaries in New York and across the country will be strongly positioned to defeat these extreme MAGA Republican Individuals who are currently in the House of Representatives, who act like moderates, but who really have extreme voting records.

Vote with George Santos and Marjorie Taylor Greene almost every step of the way.

MATTINGLY: Even when President Biden seemed to say Mike Lawler was perhaps one of those moderate Republicans?

JEFFRIES: Well, I think we're going to have to make the case individually. Every particular district. President Biden, as I mentioned earlier, is a good and decent man and will continue to you know, we are going to draw a clear contrast with the voting records of each and every one of the individuals who currently hold seats that we should win back in New York and California, in Arizona, all across the land.

MATTINGLY: A lot of policy, a lot of politics. No shortage of things on your plate this August. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries. Thanks so much for coming in.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: And I want to toss now to Derek Van Damme, keeping a very close eye on what's happening in Clearwater Beach as we continue to watch and wait for the path of the hurricane headed that way. Derek.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Phil, you know, we are standing on Sand Key, which is just south of Clearwater Beach, just over my shoulder here, and I want to give you a little bit of perspective of what this hurricane is encountering. Right now, I'm stepping into the warm Gulf of Mexico waters, and we are beyond Bathtub.

We are at hot tub levels. These water temperatures are running around two to three degrees Fahrenheit above where they should be this time of year, and that is going to have significant implications.