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Inside Politics

: Ian Recovery Efforts Continue As Death Toll Reaches 76; 600k Without Power In FL, Could Be Out For "Weeks Or Months; Lee County Officials Defend Delayed Evacuation; Biden To Visit Hurricane Ravaged Florida Wednesday; Trump Makes Racist Remarks, GOP Responds With Mostly Silence; GOP Sen: "It's Never, Ever Ok To Be A Racist"; Trump On McConnell: He Has A Death Wish; Rep. Greene: "Democrats Want Republicans Dead"; Republicans Growing More Bullish About Midterm Chances. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 03, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Dropping into a disaster zone. Right now, President Biden is on his way to Puerto Rico to get an up-close look at hurricane destruction and to promise $60 million in new rebuilding money.

Plus, a very Donald Trump weekend, election lies, threatening language about Mitch McConnell, and a racist smear of McConnell's wife, but look for Republican condemnation, and you will find almost none. And a critical January 6 trial opening today. The Oath Keepers' leader four lieutenants charged with seditious conspiracy. It's a charged not prosecuted in half a century.

We begin though with President Biden, and important promises to rebuild after two punishing hurricanes. Air Force One is on its way to Puerto Rico this hour, where some 100,000 customers are still without power, two weeks after Hurricane Fiona. The president will get a briefing on the recovery effort, visit a local school and he will announce $60 million in new funding to shore up levees, strengthen flood walls and to create a new flood warning system for Puerto Rico.

President saying this before leaving the White House this morning.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm heading to Puerto Rico because they haven't been taken very good care of. We've been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can.


King: Then on Wednesday, the president visits Florida for a firsthand look at Hurricane Ian's wrath. The death toll there climbing to 76 over the weekend, and a year's long recovery effort is just beginning. As it does, there was a debate about the county where more than half of those deaths were recorded. Lee County officials face scrutiny for not making an earlier decision to order residents to evacuate. Fort Myers is the county seat in the Lee County.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is live there. Boris, fill us in on this debate among county officials and whether they should have acted sooner.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. It is a question that has come up in our conversations with folks here in Lee County who bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian's wrath, and its nearly a category five storm force winds and that storm surge. Why weren't we warned sooner?

If you look closely at the Lee County emergency management plan, it stipulates that if there's even a 10 percent chance of a six-foot storm surge, officials are set to issue evacuation orders to get people out of the most vulnerable areas. They issued those orders on Tuesday morning, just about 24 hours before Hurricane Ian made landfall.

But if you look back at the National Weather Service advisory that was issued on Sunday night. There was an indication that this part of Lee County in Fort Myers was going to face up to a seven-foot storm surge. Again, that was Sunday night. It wasn't until at some 36 hours later on Tuesday morning that officials issued evacuation orders.

When we've pressed officials on the question of why that evacuation order wasn't sent out earlier. They've defended their response, saying that they did all they could do to save lives. I pressed Lee County sheriff about this yesterday, here was his response about the evacuation orders.


SHERIFF CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We did what we had to do at the exact same time, I wouldn't have changed anything. The second that we could and should issue that order, I'm confident that we did. Again, we wouldn't change anything. I do stand by the plan that was in place. And I know that we did everything possible.


SANCHEZ: Ultimately, we have been told that there will be a look at the decision-making process in issuing those evacuation orders. Obviously, those questions are of little consolation to folks who have lost everything across the southwest region in Florida. Officials updating us, telling us that they've been able to access areas that were previously cut off, hundreds if not thousands of evacuations taking place.

You noted the death toll at 76 fatalities right now from Hurricane Ian. That number is expected to climb as rubble is cleared away. And potentially more bodies are discovered. Hundreds of thousands remain without power. And again, there are still parts of this region that officials have not been able to get to in part because the storm surge was so strong that roads and bridges were swept away. John? KING: Boris Sanchez is live on the ground for us in Fort Myers. Boris, thank you very much. Let's continue the conversation now with Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman. Brian, Commissioner grateful for your time today. You heard the sheriff there, Sheriff Marceno saying, he's completely comfortable wouldn't change anything. You have the same view? Or do you have questions about whether maybe people should have been evacuated sooner?


BRIAN HAMMAN, LEE COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Yes. No, I support my team and I support our sheriff right now, John. Gosh, I am as a lifelong - this is my home. I was born and raised here. And I hope we're all just shocked right now at what we're seeing and living daily. And we in the emergency operations center, I know the team, they obviously work for the Board of County Commissioners and report to the Board of County Commissioners and our county manager and our emergency manager.

Obviously, we're monitoring the storm the entire time. They made the call as soon as the forecast called for them to make the call. There are definitely impacts on people's lives when you evacuate them, especially if you evacuate them when it doesn't look like, the storm is going to hit their area. And you know, I know we're focused on this right now. But I'm going to show you this is what we were looking at.

This is the Monday 11am cone. This is the Monday 11am cone. We live here where the red arrow is. And the column showed it going like to the panhandle, maybe bouncing off a Tampa, the national news narrative was, hey, this is going to hit Tampa, Tampa needs to evacuate, they're going to get the first big storm and (Inaudible) Tampa is going to be underwater.

And so, what happened, what you saw was, people started to evacuate Tampa, to our area because we thought, everybody thought, not just us, a lot of people thought our area was going to be the safe area. So, we made the call Tuesday morning 7am to evacuate. Monday afternoon, we were telling people, you do not have to wait for evacuation orders to leave. You can leave now. Of course, people can leave on their own whatever they want.

John, I think the thing we've got to think about here is personal responsibility too. Man, I'm a lifelong Floridian and many of us Floridians heard the evacuation warnings and made the conscious decision to stay. It was based on years of seeing these things kind of storms come through.

KING: So, part of the challenge, Commissioner is what a government says. What the government says to its own people. I completely get your point. We had a lot of resources in Tampa. If you go back to Sunday and Monday, things were aiming for Tampa. I just want to put up these two maps. They're in the New York Times today.

And if you look at it, you know, if you look at Monday 8am forecast, the forecast path was considerably out in the water, considerably to your west. Then you see the actual path. But even in that map on the left, the forecast then for storm surge in Lee County was four to seven feet. Then you'll see the map on the right, where it actually - the actual path again, it moved it over some.

But on the Lee County website, the emergency management process, if there's a 10 percent chance of six feet or more storm surge, the most vulnerable areas should be, should be evacuated. That's what it says in the emergency plan. And if you look at that, Monday 8am it says four to seven feet storm surge there.

So, does the emergency plan need to be rewritten? If you defend this call and say it's a tough situation, I completely get it. Do you need to have clearer guidance, different guidance? Why write the guidance if you're not going to follow?

HAMMAN: John, John, not only us, but everyone will study this storm for years and years and years to come. You know, the people who do the modeling will study this storm for years to come. The National Hurricane Center better study this storm for years to come. We can all learn, every single one of us can learn from this storm. And what happened.

But what I can tell you is, John, I have been to the Emergency Operations Center every single day. I've looked in the eyes of our county employees, who John, many of them lost their own homes. Many of them have damage to their own homes. Many of them know their families and their children are sitting in damaged homes right now. And they're saying, commissioner, my home can wait. My family can wait. I've got to save and help the residents of the county right now.

And these are the people who are being criticized right now by the New York Times and by the national media. It's amazing, because you should know, they see in the EOC what you all are saying about them and about us. And they're having to put this response on, while you all are doing this to them. And listen, I understand you got to ask the questions. I actually was a journalist for 10 years myself, it's your job to ask the questions.

I think the timing could be a little bit better. Because John, we've got stoplights out, we've got people we're rescuing every single day, we're trying to get food and water up, and to have to sit here and spend so much time defending a decision is just really, it's getting in the way honestly. And so, I stand by the team, I stand by our people, I stand by everybody and I going to say a huge thanks to the team.

Governor DeSantis has been here every single day. I've heard from Senator Rubio. I've heard from Senator Scott. They've been in town as well. Our chief financial officer for the state of Florida has been in here. John is overwhelming the amount of resources that people are sending our way right now. It's actually just, you know, for somebody who's heartbroken to see what's happening in my county. The feeling of support that is pouring in has been overwhelming, and so to the people who are supporting us right now, thank you so much for that.


KING: Amen to that. We completely share effort to get a to the people who needed from all quarters in the state of Florida. But as you noted, it's also our job to ask the questions, especially when you're on policy states. So clearly, on that book. Commissioner, I appreciate your willingness to come on and answer those questions. And we will stay in touch as your community goes through the important recovery ahead. Thank you, sir.

HAMMAN: Yes. And I know you guys are doing a good job to put out those disaster relief funds to, John, thank you for that effort.

KING: Thank you, sir. We'll continue the conversation. Appreciate it. Up next for us. Threatening language and a racist rant from Donald Trump. And sadly, near silence from fellow Republicans who want you to put them in charge.



KING: Donald Trump gave us a stark reminder this weekend of who he is. And his fellow Republicans are following that with a stark reminder of how much they fear him. In a statement posted on his social media site, the former president said the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, "has a death wish." That statement went on to say McConnell, "must immediately seek help and advice from his China loving wife, Coco Chow."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board today calling those comments ugly, and it sees a possible direct line between Trump's words and potential violence. "It's all too easy to imagine some fanatic taking Mr. Trump seriously and literally and attempting to kill Mr. McConnell." Smart words there, but there is near silence, near silence across Trump's Republican party.

With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Audie Cornish, and Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post. It is both stunning and not stunning what Trump said, not stunning because of his history, stunning because Elaine Chao, the former cabinet secretary, the wife of Mitch McConnell, Elaine Chao, he calls her Coco Chow. He says the leader has a death wish.

After January 6, everybody should be careful about what they say, especially people in positions of authority. And yet, almost his newsworthy are the crickets. Why? Why will not a Republican stand up to Donald Trump and say, this is an outrage, at least say apologize?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, this is also coming as a threatens of threats of violence against members of Congress, so at an all-time high rising dramatically. But there's crickets because of upsetting the Republican base, most likely we are five weeks out from the midterm elections, coming out and disagreeing publicly with the former president could upset Republican voters perhaps.

KING: So, power is more important than principle?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Mitch McConnell is a powerful politician in his own right. Elaine Chao is a cabinet secretary. These are two people more than capable of defending themselves in public. If they choose not to that is very much their choice. And obviously, Senator McConnell also wields a big hand in terms of finances and money that he could pour into races. So yes, this does speak very loudly. Jeff, maybe you have some insight about why they will not?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No, I think what you said, I mean, it's simply the time clock. It's five weeks before the midterms, they don't want to poke the bear.

CORNISH: And may it's not just poking the bear, but also pushing people towards the candidates of, as McConnell has said, sort of lower quality.

ZELENY: And interestingly, in that journal editorial, they call it ugly by Trump standards. So, this is grading on a scale here. They've had many of these scathing editorials before, but look, the bottom line is, this doesn't help excite the Trump base. This is just a peek that the former president has had against McConnell, you know, that he throws out there. And Elaine Chao was a longest serving Republican cabinet secretary in several administrations.

It is a little shocking that no one's coming out to say anything about this. But at the end of the day, if Mitch McConnell thinks he's close to Republicans winning control of the Senate, which they are, they are very close in many places, even a sliver of getting in a fight with Trump now is not good politics.

KING: Again, not good politics because power matters more than the principle of standing up to threatening language and just blatant---

ZELENY: Offending your wife.

KING: Horrific racism or defending your wife. This is Senator Rick Scott. No fan of Mitch McConnell. Let's get that in the record. No fan of Mitch McConnell. Senator Rick Scott, he runs the Senate Republican campaign finance arm. He raises money to help all these candidates. Dana Bash tried, listen?



SEN. RICK SCOTT (R) FLORIDA: Well, look, I can never talk about and respond to why anybody else says what they say. As you know, you know, the president likes to give people nicknames. So, you can ask him how he came up with the nickname. Sure, he has a nickname for me.

BASH: Nicknames are one thing, but this appears racist. Is that OK?

SEN. SCOTT: It's never ever OK to be racist. You know, I think you always have to be careful, you know, if you're in the public, you know, how you say things.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: I guess, we should be thankful for the senator saying it's never ever OK to be a racist. There's a difference between a nickname. Trump likes to label people rhinos, Republican in name only we can agree or disagree with that applies. That's one thing. Death wish, again, after January 6, given what we see out there, and then I'm not going to repeat what he called Elaine Chao. How about it's horrible. It's reprehensible. The former president should apologize. And this point, this has no place in American politics period. Why is that so hard?

CORNISH: Are you going to be holding your breath for that one? Or what do you know about the last couple of years? I want to ask something of Jeff though, which is that you brought up the idea that somehow that this might not play so well with some people, but I think it does in that everything is oppositional, right?


And McConnell is also an oppositional figure to Trump and to people who support Trump. And so therefore, making fun of him, making fun of his wife, saying whatever he wants to say, is not seen by that community as, oh no, we really liked that.

KING: Sure.

CORNISH: He's part of air quotes the swamp.

KING: If you want the Senate majority. If you want to control the House of Representatives. If you want to win all these governor's races. You're trying to win all these down ballot races. What are you saying to the American people five weeks out from that election, that we still won't stick? Please give us power, we still won't stand up to Donald Trump. In addition to that, Marjorie Taylor Greene at a Trump rally this weekend. The congresswoman from Georgia says this.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R) GEORGIA: I'm not going to win mince words with you all. Democrats want Republicans dead. And they've already started the killings.


CALDWELL: I mean, I don't know how to respond to that. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she is someone who is on - who's making incendiary comments constantly. But she has also been fully accepted by Kevin McCarthy and members of the Republican Party. Usually, Republicans actually don't - especially Mitch McConnell does not want to be talking about Donald Trump. Democrats want to be talking about Donald Trump. And so, McConnell and Republican allies not addressing this, as an attempt to push this under the rug, try to keep their powder dry for another five weeks until they get through these midterm elections.

CORNISH: It was the rub, though, because every time we say they don't want to be talking about Trump, there's a tweet like this or some similar comment, KING: Democrats want Republicans dead. And they've already started the killings. To your point, Kevin McCarthy used to push her out on the fringe. She was right behind him when the Republican House leader the future Speaker of the House, if he gets his way, announced their agenda last week and again, dislike Trump death wish, racist slur, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Democrats want Republicans dead. They've already started the killings and crickets, from the Republican leadership.

ZELENY: For sure. I mean, we can talk about this endlessly. But I think that it's the same answered. Yes, as you were saying, Audie, no doubt that it's one way to fire up the base. It's also a way for Trump to not talk about himself during the matter at hand here, his investigations, et cetera. So, he's like deflecting a bit. At the end of the day, I'm not sure, you know, there aren't many Republican voters who will come to Mitch McConnell's defense and certainly not even some senators.

KING: To just quickly before we go, you said, we can talk about. Are we not supposed to talk about it? Are we supposed to ignore it? Because we know they're not going to do anything about it? It's a question, seriously a question. I grew up in Boston in the 70s and forced busing, and to not condemn was to condone. I just watched it in my neighborhood, to not condemn it was to condone it. Silence is golden sometimes; silence is complicity other times. So, are we supposed to just let it go?

CORNISH: I mean, I grew up in Boston as well. And there were lots of people who sat by many years after a while. There was all kinds of discrimination that continued. The voters speak at the end of the day and his voters continue to speak. That is the problem for McConnell.

KING: Five weeks from tomorrow, we count those votes. That's an excellent point. Up next. Five weeks out. Yes, and mixed midterm signals. Republicans do feel better about some key Senate races, Democrats seeing a new abortion politics twist they think, just might help them.




KING: Five weeks out and there's some midterm optimism from Republicans, tightening polls and a shrinking cash gap. Have Republicans bullish, get that bullish about winning back both the House and the Senate. But there also are some new data points that give Democrats hope. Yes, it's confusing out there five weeks out.

Our reporters are back around the table to help us. If you look at the polling in the Pennsylvania Senate race and the Wisconsin Senate race, even in the Georgia Senate race, Republicans aren't ahead in all of those, but they seem to be more stable and they feel better about a little momentum at the end. In the Washington Post quoted yesterday, said, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and incumbent says, I think this is about Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania.

I think he has seen a lot of correction there. Nothing's a layup, don't get me wrong. It's not like we're measuring the carpet for Dr. Oz or anything. But they feel better about it. Whereas if you had that conversation two weeks ago, they were thinking that one's gone.

CALDWELL: Yes, Senator Cramer, the most honest perhaps Senator to talk to. Yes, they thought that it was gone a long time ago. They thought they had - at the beginning of the season, they thought they had a better chance in Pennsylvania Republicans than they did in North Carolina. And then now it seems to be - now they're both seem to be on an even playing field.

But as the polls are tightening there, and that's something that happens in races as it gets closer. But you know, Oz is also trying a lot of things. He's really digging deep into the crime issue as far as Fetterman is concerned. He's talking about Fetterman's health, which seems to perhaps be a concern on some levels. So, you know, we'll see, we'll see if the abortion issue helps there Fetterman there, too.

KING: You raise a key point, Democrats are dropping the majority of their money right now into abortion ads for the most part, you'll find exceptions out there but most of the Democratic money is going into abortion ads trying to motivate Democratic voters, also trying to win back moderate Republicans in the suburbs and independent - moderate independents.

Listen here. This is a Dr. Oz ad and then of that North Carolina Senate race again, you would think Republicans favored in the midterm year in North Carolina. It is very close one on crime, one on inflation.