Return to Transcripts main page

The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Idalia Intensifies, Now Lashing Parts Of Florida Coast; Trump Calls For Christie To Drop Out Of 2024 Race; Tennessee State Rep. Jones Silenced By GOP Lawmakers. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: CNN's special coverage of Hurricane Idalia continues.



Hurricane Idalia, just hours away from landfall, but Florida is already feeling the impact. This extremely dangerous hurricane is now a Category 2 storm, and expected to intensify. One of the greatest threats is a storm surge, perhaps as 15 feet high, in Florida's Big Bend region. Officials there say it could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Florida's governor warning that now is the time to get out. Mandatory evacuations are underway, in county after county. Thousands of National Guard members have been activated.

We are monitoring it all.

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

Hurricane Idalia is intensifying very rapidly, tonight, now packing winds of 105 miles per hour. The eye of the hurricane is now 155 miles or so, southwest of Tampa, and moving north. It is expected to slam into Florida as a Category 3 storm, by early tomorrow.

Governor Ron DeSantis is warning everywhere, in the Big Bend area that they are going to see a storm surge, and now is the time to get out.

Officials, in Taylor County, which is southeast of Tallahassee, say that the surge there could possibly exceed 15 feet, and that anyone who was caught in it would not be able to survive.

Evacuations have been ordered, in at least 22 counties. The outer bands of Idalia have already been hitting the Florida Keys, and the southwest coast.

Here's a view of the storm, from space. NASA released these images, from the International Space Station, just as it passed over it. CNN is tracking this storm, across the entire region. We have full team coverage, for you, tonight, in this hour.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is on the ground, in Tampa.

Our Meteorologist, Chad Myers, is at the CNN Weather Center.

And we have key State officials, on standby, to update us. We'll get to them, in just a moment.

Chad, I want to start with you though, because we have seen the storm strengthening, today. Where does it stand, right now? And what is the timeframe, what's that window, of when it's going to make landfall?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think it makes landfall, around 8 AM, tomorrow morning, so like less than 12 hours from right now, somewhere along the Big Bend area. You would know, from one side, it would be Apalachicola, and the other side would gulf Steinhatchee. And I'm sure we'll have our reporters there, from Steinhatchee. That's just on the other side of the Bend.

The problem with this storm is where it is going. It's going into a Catcher's Mitt of topography here. There's no place for this water to go.

This storm, right now, is gathering water under it, pushing water, on the right side of it. And if there was nothing to the north, it would be fine. But unfortunately, there is land there. And that land is going to stop the rain, and stop the water that's surging to the north.

Look at the eye, right now. We have not seen an eye like this, the entire storm. But there it is. It just popped in the past couple of hours. That means the storm is rapidly intensifying, at this hour. And Hurricane Hunters are flying through that right now, and proving that to us, as the pressure is dropping rapidly. As the pressure goes down, the winds go up.

It is going to make landfall likely as a Category 3 hurricane now, that far from Steinhatchee, probably to the north of Crystal River, and then even make significant wind, all the way into Georgia.

So now, we're not going to see any storm surge from St. Pete and Tampa, until the storm gets due west of you, and the winds come from this direction. Because, right now, they're pushing offshore, pushing that water away. But that's going to change because of the circulation of the storm.

Six inches of rainfall in places that people may be evacuating too, that could cause some flash flooding here. So, you have to be very careful where you're going with this storm, just trying to stay out of the way of that surge.

And that surge is going to be the most significant part of this, today, and into tomorrow, because there's no place for this water to go. It can't keep going. It has to stop. It's going to go up to Saint Marks River. It's going to go toward Apalachicola. It's going to go to Steinhatchee, not places that are widely populated, like Tampa.

But significant evacuations have to take place to get people out of there. A 15-foot storm surge, because this is so flat down here, could go four miles inland. If your house isn't on stilts, it's not going to make it.


COLLINS: We will be keeping an eye, on the storm surge, obviously besides the, what's going to be potentially the worst part of this.

Thank you so much, Chad Myers.


MYERS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: And Carlos Suarez is also, on the ground, for us.

Carlos, I know that you have been talking to people, all day, about this. How are people there, bracing, for what Chad just laid out there, what we're going to see?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, we are in for a wet and windy night, here in the Tampa Bay area. A look at the radar shows that we're in for a strong line of thunderstorms, associated with the storm, in the next hour or so. And we expect that bad weather, to really continue through the night.

Of course, the big concern, as Chad laid out there, for a good part of the state, including just about all of Hillsborough County, here in the Tampa Bay area, as well as Pinellas County, is the flooding that might be headed this way.

When you take into account all of this rain that is going to fall, over the next 12 to 24 hours? Then, you've also got all of that water just being pushed into the Tampa Bay area. And then you mix in high tide? And that is the concern, from emergency officials, right now, are that folks that live in these low-lying areas, in the Tampa Bay area, they really want to see them get more inland. They want to see them get to higher ground.


COLLINS: Yes, and I mean, any surge that is over four feet would break records that have been set in Tampa. I know, officials have been saying, it could be not only four feet, but between four and seven feet. Is the city prepared for this flooding? What are officials saying?

SUAREZ: Yes, so the city goes into the night, really hoping that a lot of the residents that live, in these low-lying areas, seek higher ground.

There are two mandatory evacuation orders that have been in place, for a good part of the day. One of those mandatory evacuation orders are, right here, in Hillsborough County. That is home to the Tampa Bay area. The other mandatory evacuation order is just to the west of us. That's in Pinellas County. That is home to Clearwater as well as St. Pete.

A number of hurricane shelters have also opened, in anticipation of this storm. Of course, again, the concern is all of that flooding, associated with this storm surge. As we head into tomorrow, the concern is that just not enough folks, right now, have made that decision, just yet, about seeking higher ground.

A lot of the folks that we've been talking to, out here, tonight, tell us, look, they don't think it's going to be that bad. And so, they're making the decision, at least, right now, to stay put, which is something that emergency officials, right now, don't want to hear.


COLLINS: So, you're hearing, from multiple people, who say they're not leaving, to go to high ground?

Because, we heard, from Governor DeSantis, earlier, saying, "You don't have to go hundreds of miles. We're just asking you to either, go to a shelter, go to higher ground, go a few miles away, where you will be in a better position, if the storm surge does get that bad."

SUAREZ: Yes, so the folks that we've talked to, in this part of Downtown Tampa, have told us, "Look, we've seen other hurricanes come really close to the Tampa Bay area."

In fact, we were in this very same location, last year, as Hurricane Ian moved to the south. And there was a great deal of concern, then that that storm was going to hit the Tampa Bay area.

And so, a lot of the folks that we talked to, out here, told us, "Look, last year, we made all of these preparations, with the anticipation, the fear that Hurricane Ian was going to hit. Then, that storm went to the south and this area saw some flooding. But it really wasn't that bad."

And so, going into tonight, the folks out here, at least the ones that we've come across, have told us, "Look, we also prepared for this storm. We thought that this might be a little bit closer to us than what the forecast has it, right now."

And so as the storm moves further north, but then a little bit further west of the coastline, a lot of the folks are falling back to that sense, from last year, which is "Sure, we're going to see some rain. We're going to see some wind. We might see some flooding. But we don't think it's going to be as bad."

The concern, as Chad laid out, as well as emergency officials, out here, is that really, we're not going to see this storm surge, associated with this hurricane, until tomorrow.

A number of factors are at play here, right? You've got all of this rain that should fall, anywhere between two to six inches of rain, over the next couple of hours. You've then got the -- the hurricane has to move in. It's going to push all of that in. And then, you're going to mix in high tide. And the concern there is that once all those three things happen, at the same time, that's when you're going to see some flooding, in the Tampa Bay area.


COLLINS: Yes. And it creates a bad perfect storm.

Carlos Suarez, thank you. We'll check back in with you.

I want to turn now to John MacDonald. He is the Director of Emergency Management, in Levy County, one of many across Florida's West Coast that have issued mandatory evacuation orders, for their residents.

John, thank you so much, for being here, tonight. I know you got a lot going on.

Your county is set to see some of the worst of Hurricane Idalia, later tonight, and through tomorrow. Are you prepared, right now? What conditions are you preparing to experience?

JOHN MACDONALD, DIRECTOR, LEVY COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We're looking at a -- the highest tide surge that we're looking for could be upwards of 15 AGL.

We convert everything to MSL here. We have Mean Sea Level storm tide poles that are out there, so residents can kind of get a visual, on what that actual is going to look like.


So basically, it's not an exact science for us. But we take and basically add two foot to those AGL numbers that the media puts out there, so that 15 AGL converts to 17, as a high tide surge, for us. I mean, same level and all that, but at least it gives them some visual, to go out there, and look at.

But Hermine, when it came in through 2016, affected Cedar Key, just to put that in perspective, for people. That came in at a little over, I think, it was around 9.6 MSL. And we're looking at 17 MSL. And Hermine tore that island up pretty good, and the community of Yankeetown.

COLLINS: So, you're expecting this to be worse than that, is what you're saying, right?


COLLINS: And given that, I mean, clearly, officials, they're worried, because they've ordered the mandatory evacuation, of all residents.

Have you -- has everyone evacuated? What is your sense, right now, of how many people have done so, and how many people haven't?

MACDONALD: We're still having some issues out there, on those -- out there on Cedar Key. One of the last reports I got which, that was earlier today, I haven't updated that yet, but there was roughly about 100 -- and a little over 100 citizens that were still out there, on the island that just refused to leave, after the mandatory evacuations have taken place.

We've shoved messaging out just about every way, every social media outlet, that we have, every news media outlet. We've also done IPAWS messaging, all the way down to going back to the old-school route, alerting. We even did that to go around door-to-door, to try to get these people to leave.

COLLINS: I mean, if those 100 people are watching, right now, what's your message, to them?

MACDONALD: Well, my message to them is, if they stayed, during Hermine, they didn't really have that super-super wind field that we're potentially seeing here.

We're looking at wind speeds of potentially 115 to 125. And so, we're looking at a upper-level Cat 3. Hermine, when it went by was a very strong tropical storm, minimal Category 1 hurricane. So, that's the difference that we're trying to tell these people that when you incorporate a lot more wind, with it, that increases those numbers.

So, it's real. It's happening. We can deny it. We can do that. We always tell everybody to run from the -- run from the surge, and hide from the wind. They don't have to go far. Just get far enough out of that surge zone. Pretty much anything, on the east side of U.S. 19, moving inland, like that would be a safe -- safe enough, to get out of the surge.

COLLINS: If they don't get out of the surge, and what's expected to be the surge area, will first responders still be able to get to them?

MACDONALD: No. Once the winds reach a certain level, and then, once the tide -- because especially Cedar Key, because Cedar Key has one way in, and one way out. It's a state highway that runs through there. So, once that becomes unpassable, yes, they will not be able to get out there, on rescue boats, winds and all that.

So, once those winds reach that 45-mile-an hour sustained, they pull all the emergency vehicles, off the road. So, they're in it for the long haul. And those that stayed there, in Hermine, then called and wanted to be evacuated, and all that? We couldn't get to them. They really need to take heed of this.

COLLINS: It's a stark warning.

John MacDonald, we are thinking of all of you all, tonight. We know you got a long few days ahead of you. So, thank you, for taking the time, to join me, tonight.

MACDONALD: Yes, thank you.

COLLINS: We have much more to come, as Idalia is bearing down, on Florida. We are going to be joined by a former Governor of the State, current Senator, Rick Scott. And we'll also hone in on the extremely warm water temperatures that are helping fuel this storm, and make it more intense, as we heard.

Back in just a moment.



COLLINS: We are closely following Hurricane Idalia, as it is gaining strength, and barreling towards to the Florida coast.

Officials there are bracing for landfall, which is expected to happen, just a few hours from now. They're warning that projected storm surges, along the coastal regions, could be, and I'm quoting them now, "Non-survivable." For residents, who are still in those evacuation zones, authorities have said the time to go is now, before it becomes impossible.

Florida Senator, Rick Scott, knows what it's like to weather these storms. He's the former Governor of the Sunshine State. He joins us now.

Senator, thank you, for taking the time, to join us.

I mean, this hurricane and the forecast that it expected to make, near Florida's Big Bend, which is where the Panhandle turns into the peninsula, it has not experienced a storm, of this magnitude, in more than 150 years. What are you most worried about, as of this moment?

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Well, Kaitlan, I worry about life. And it's real simple. I want everybody to survive this.

This is a -- this area of the State is a low-lying area. And people are just are not used to thinking about these storms or water events. And so, what I care about is I want every Floridian to stay alive. And the way you do that is you listen.

Here's what's going to happen. Somewhere on the West Coast of Florida, somebody's going to experience 10-plus foot of storm surge. Probably six foot of storm surge you're not going to survive, right? I've watched what's happened.

Somewhere, we're going to have 120-plus-mile-an-hour winds. So, if you're in a manufactured home, or trailer park, you might not survive. And then, after the fact, we're going to have a lot of flooding. And that might -- and the flooding might come up so fast, you might not survive.

So, what I tell people is stop, right now, and just save yourself. You don't want to go through this. I've talked to people that have gone through six-foot, nine-foot of storm surge, and they will never do it again. I've watched people just be shocked, how the water came up, and they were not even next to the coast. And I've watched -- I've watched trailers, just tumbled, and know family members that lost their lives. And I've talked to family members. They were looking the day after, for their family member, and they're found three or four days away, blocks away, because they got swept away. That should not happen to any family, in the State.

So, I hope everybody stops and says, "Am I in evacuation zone? If I am, I'm going to get out, right now." You still have time to get out. But you have to make a decision, right now.


So, when I was governor, for four years, I had four major storms, or four major hurricanes. My goal was to not have anybody die. That was my whole goal. I can rebuild everything. You can rebuild everything, but your life.

COLLINS: And have you been hearing from people today that say that they're not heeding those evacuation orders and why?

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SCOTT: Would I have -- I've had been traveling the State. And so, I've been with Emergency Management people, and sheriffs and police and fire and stuff like that. And what they're telling me is that not everybody's evacuating.

And, again, I really do believe it comes down to, they've historically, they never thought about the storm surge. And they've just thought about wind events. And wind events are things that if you're in a home, especially it's been rebuilt, and built in the last 20 years, you're probably going to be fine.

So, water is going to kill you. And I talked to Hurricane Center, about this, all the time, about how can we come up with something that people focus more on the water side of this, because that's what's killing Floridians now. Some of it's the wind. If you're in an old home, or a trailer park, or manufactured home, but most of it's water.

And so, we've got to figure out how to get people, to focus on. Do just think -- here's what happens. And because I've watched it, in the hurricanes, it means 10-foot of storm surge comes in? It comes in. It breaks everything into your house.

There's no way you can stop the water pressure, into your house. And then, it sucks everything that's not tied down out, including you. You're not going to -- you're not going to survive it. If you get a six, and you're from a one-storeyed house, and you get six foot of storm surge? Your chance of surviving is almost none.

I know of one person I've ever talked to, with six foot of storm surge, and it was not even -- that's probably five foot, survived it. Nobody else I've ever talked to. No one else I've ever -- no one's ever survived it that I know of.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean.

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SCOTT: So. COLLINS: We're hearing that from officials, who were warning about unsurvivable levels. And obviously, life is the most important thing here.

And people there, though, are also, they're worried about their property. I mean, Floridians are already paying four times the national average for home insurance.

And as we've seen more and more of these natural disasters, I mean, how worried are you, about this critical industry, and people, in your home state, and their ability to have access to affordable home insurance?

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SCOTT: Oh, it's a wake-up call. If you look at -- if you look what's happened, with the property insurance rates, it's -- you know, and I always think about, as you know, Kaitlan, I grew up in public housing, so I just think about how has it impacted somebody like my mom, right?

And so, it's devastating to people, if they see their property insurance, or their rent goes up, because the property insurance of the landlord went up. So, what we have to do is we have to figure out how do we get insurance companies to come back in, and how do we -- how do we work with them, to get rates down?

I did that. Company like State Farm -- companies, like State Farm, had left the state before I became Governor, back in 2011. And I sat down with them, and said, "What are the problems?" and I went to address those problems.

We've got to do the exact same thing, again, because this is, this is way -- it's way too expensive to insure homes, in Florida, right now. And so, we've got to work with the insurance companies. We got to recruit them, to come back in the State. We got to get more competition, and we got to solve the problem, so they can drive their rates down.

COLLINS: And do you think enough is being done, to make sure that that's happening, right now?

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SCOTT: Kaitlan, till it's happened? You know the way I always look at -- I'm a business guy, my background. In everything you're doing, until it's completely solved, you know, there's more to do.

So, we still have companies leaving. I mean, we have less -- we have less competition, in the private company, the public, organized company, the government, want citizens. I work to get it down to -- right-size it from a 1.5 million (ph) policies, to 400,000. I think it's back up to 1.3 million policies. It's not a fully-funded insurance product. It's we've got to -- this has got to be to get out. And that's at the State level.

At the federal level, I'm working on trying to make sure we have a robust private flood insurance market, because we're actually a donor state, in the National Flood Insurance Program. And when they raise our rates? That's not fair.

And so, I'm trying to get a robust private Flood Insurance Program, because that will drive those rates down. But the Property Insurance Program is a State program. And there's clearly more that has to be done.

COLLINS: Yes. It is a deeply important issue, to many people, in Florida.

Senator Rick Scott, I know, you have a lot to keep your eye on, over the next few days.

Thank you, for joining me, tonight.

ON THE PHONE: VOICE OF SCOTT: OK. Pray for Floridians. Bye-bye.

COLLINS: We will.

These record warm waters, in the Gulf of Mexico, are making this storm, tonight even stronger, more dangerous, and more unpredictable. But is this the new normal? We have our Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir, live from one of Florida's danger zones, to break it down for us, in just a moment.



COLLINS: Hurricane Idalia passed through some of the world's warmest waters, on its way, to Florida's coast.

In the Gulf of Mexico, and in South Florida, as you can see here, water temperature is breaking records, this year. In July, one buoy that was off the coast, recorded 101 degrees. That is equivalent to the temperature of a hot tub.

We'll dig into all of, this and how it's changing what we are seeing happening in Florida, tonight.

Bill Weir is CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent. He is in Steinhatchee, along Florida's Big Bend, where Hurricane Idalia is expected to hit the hardest.

Bill, thanks for joining us.

I mean, how are these record-breaking warm waters amplifying the effects, of what we're watching, tonight, just how quickly this storm is intensifying?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's all connected, Kaitlan.

One of the scariest units of measurement that I've learned, covering this beat, the climate beat, is Hiroshima's per second. That is the amount of extra energy absorbed by our oceans. Few years ago, it was five Hiroshima-sized explosions, per second, every second of every day, being absorbed. Now, it's around 10, due to the heat-trapping pollution that comes, from burning fossil fuels.

And it's sort of the way you -- if you were to heat up a bathtub, of lukewarm water, with a tea kettle? It would take a while. It would stay lukewarm until it no longer is. And it feels like the summer 2023. We saw these numbers, where people went "Wow, this is off the charts faster than we had anticipated."


And it just creates more storm energy. It's more energy for these hurricanes. It's steroids, whatever metaphor you want to use. One degree of warming Fahrenheit can lead to a 10 percent greater intensity, of the storm. There's other factors involved, wind shear and El Nino and all that stuff.

But this is coming at a time, when you've got a lot of folks, who know these waters, who know the hurricanes of years past, and are sort of setting their risk management, around the world that really no longer exists.

One guy is Mike Baker, a Captain here, who's ferried presidents, out on fishing trips, down here. He knows these waters better than most. He's deciding to stay. And I asked him why.


WEIR: Talk about the decision to stay, when something like this seems so obviously serious?

CAPTAIN MIKE BAKER, STEINHATCHEE RESIDENT: You know, it started, and like back in Hurricane Donna, as a kid, I can remember our parents took us to the mainland, up into Homestead. And we came back, and our home had been rummaged, from other people. You know, the looters, they took everything.

Not to mention the amount of time, you're away from your home, you have no idea what it's going to look like, or if you have a home, when you're there.

WEIR: Yes.

BAKER: You know, all it would take for me to just go two hours, from here, and come back, and trees or power lines be across the road. And I can't get here. That to me is more harmful than riding the storm.


WEIR: And Kaitlan, this, of course, is a State, about civil liberties. Part of the appeal for a lot of peoples moving here is that no one's going to tell you what to do. Well, now, you've got authorities telling you what to do. That is, get out of these low-lying areas, for your own sake. Nobody's coming back to help you, until it's too late. The cautionary tale from a year ago, less than a year ago, here, Hurricane Ian, when it hit Lee County, most of the deaths came from storm surge. That is just not survivable, if you're in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

COLLINS: Yes. And I mean, we saw the damage, from Hurricane Ian. They're still recovering from that.

But, on the climate aspect of this, and we're talking about how much warmer the waters are, I'm fascinated that, Hiroshima's per second, I mean. But does this make it harder, for officials, to track these, to forecast where these storms are going?

WEIR: Well, I think it's pretty good, when it comes to directional modeling.

But it's that rapid intensification that may catch residents off- guard, sooner than forecasters, just because when you hit -- when it goes from 80-degree water to 90-degree water, and it just revs that engine, it may ramp up. We may wake up in the morning, and it's a Category 3, that we went to bed, we weren't anticipating that. So, that's one big part of it.

And then, there's the ocean life piece of this, the coral reefs, the system at the bottom, the aquaculture, and fishing industry, is dying, as we speak. It's being boiled, in these hot waters. And so, there's a lot of knock-on effects, coming down, on Florida, these days.

COLLINS: Bill Weir, thank you, for being there, to break it all down for us.

WEIR: You bet.

COLLINS: And a former Governor, who knows what it's like to deal with these storms, will join us, when we return. Chris Christie was the Governor of New Jersey, when Superstorm Sandy struck, in 2012. His insight of preparing for the disaster, and calls for him to drop out of the race, from Donald Trump, next.



COLLINS: We have breaking news, here tonight, as Florida is about to be hit, by a major hurricane. Idalia has strengthened to a Category 2. It is expected though to intensify to a Category 3, by the time it makes landfall, likely to early tomorrow morning.

The governor there, urging people, who are in zones, evacuation zones, to heed the warnings, and get out now, because by tomorrow, it may be too late, and the first responders will not be able to reach them.

Florida's Big Bend region is expected to experience historic storm surge, as high as 15 feet potentially, that could bring catastrophic flooding to the area. This will be the first major hurricane, on record, to make landfall, in that region. And joining me now is former New Jersey governor, and Republican presidential candidate, Chris Christie.

Governor, thanks for being here, tonight.

You oversaw the State of New Jersey, when Hurricane Sandy did unprecedented damage, in 2012. What's your advice, for leaders, in Florida, tonight? How do you think that Governor DeSantis is handling his hurricane preparations, right now?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I mean, I think he's handling it in a very standard way.

I think you don't really know what you're going to get until you get it. And that's what I've learned, from a number of different hurricanes, that I had to deal with, in New Jersey, of course, the worst one being Sandy.

But I think the best advice, I can give him, is just to be present, you know, to be present, be out there, let the citizens see you, after the worst of the storm is over, so they know that you're on top of the job, and that you're going to listen to their concerns, and do the very best, you can, to help get them rebuilt and recovered as quickly as possible.

COLLINS: At the Republican debate, last week, Vivek Ramaswamy brought up how you embraced then-President Obama, following Sandy. He said you hugged him. You really just shook his hand, as he put his arm on you, I mean.


COLLINS: But what do you think in 10 years later or so that -- do Republicans want a candidate, who isn't willing to reach across the aisle, even after a natural disaster? What did you make of that?

CHRISTIE: Look, just it shows his immaturity. And he's showing that every day, with the things that he's saying, day after day after day. So, I don't worry about him.

I think what the public needs to know about what I did then was, I put the citizens of my State, before politics. I made sure that when we suffered $60 billion, in damage, in the State of New Jersey, that I knew the only way that we could rebuild, and recover, as quickly as possible, was to be partners, with the federal government.

And so I understood that I had been Mitt Romney's keynote speaker. I had been his number one surrogate, out on the campaign, campaigning hard against Barack Obama. And I voted for Mitt Romney. And I worked as hard or harder than anybody for him.

But Mitt Romney understood that when it came to a natural disaster, and the devastating damage it did, to my State, your job? You take an oath of office, not an oath of party. And my job was to put the people, of my State, first. And when I'm President, that's exactly what I'll do. I'll put the people of the country, their needs, and their concerns, before my own political concerns. And that's something that you're not going to get, from somebody, like Donald Trump. You never did. And you won't now.


COLLINS: Speaking of the 2024 race, and Trump, he wrote today that you, all caps, "SHOULD DROP OUT OF THE RACE. HE IS GOING NOWHERE AND IS VERY BAD FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY."

What's your response to that?

CHRISTIE: He only wishes I was going away. And it's great, for me, Kaitlan, to live rent-free, in Donald Trump's head.

Obviously, he was watching the interview, as I was doing it. I was laying out the truth about him. And that's one thing he cannot stand, is when someone, who's credible, someone, who's been there, as a prosecutor, for seven years, running the fifth largest office in the country, who was 130 (ph), in political corruption prosecutions, when I was U.S. attorney? He knows I'm not just some politician, talking about his problems. I'm someone, who has done it, and done it well.

And I know how deep his problems are, and how much they're damaging, both the Republican Party, and the country. And I'm not getting out of this race. And maybe he should think about getting out of the race, since he'll be spending most of March, and half of April, in a courtroom, in Washington, D.C., not fighting the fight against Joe Biden, like I'll be doing every day.

COLLINS: A Super PAC that is supporting you launched an ad. They have now featured Trump's mug shot in that ad. His campaign is claiming they've raised over $9 million from it. Trump is calling it iconic, today.

I mean, you're using it in an ad, presumably, obviously against him. But does it actually hurt him, in the Republican primary, right now?

CHRISTIE: Figure, it reminds everybody of what he's up against, reminds everybody what he's done to the country.

This is his conduct. Kaitlan, whether you believe the prosecutions are fair or unfair, the one thing that not even Donald Trump disputes, are the underlying facts, of his own conduct. They put himself, and his own selfish desire, to stay in power, ahead of the American people, ahead of our electoral system, ahead of the peaceful transfer of power.

You get in this business, it's not always going to be fair, Kaitlan. But that's what you sign up for. And, as President, you need to put the country first. He never put the country first. In that instance, what he did was put himself first.

So, he wishes I would drop out of the race, because I'm the only one, on that stage, who's telling the truth about him. And I'm one of two people, who didn't raise my hand, and say, I would support a convicted felon, for reelection, to the presidency.

COLLINS: Yes. Were you -- were you waving your finger, in that moment?

CHRISTIE: It's wrong. And he knows he's wrong.

COLLINS: What was that?

CHRISTIE: I was doing this. I was saying, no.


CHRISTIE: No, like I'm not doing that. Yes.

COLLINS: Speaking of --

CHRISTIE: And I think I made myself very clear.

COLLINS: Yes, you certainly have, on that front.

President Biden announced today, the first 10 drugs that are going to be subject to price negotiations, between Medicare and pharmaceutical companies. Obviously, a big step.

If you are in the Oval Office, would you keep or remove the ability, for Medicare, to negotiate lower prescription drug prices?

CHRISTIE: What I would do Kaitlan, is take an entirely different approach, to the problem.

The real problem in the cost of prescription drugs, are these pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen, that are taking 60 percent and 70 percent of the rebates that the pharmaceutical companies intend, for the customers, and pocketing themselves, making tens of billions of dollars a year.

How about we start there, with the middlemen, who provide absolutely no value, to the consumer, and little or no value, to the pharmaceutical companies? How about we start there, and then we work, and see whether we need to have further negotiations on prices.

But these are huge rebates that are given by the pharma companies, intended for their patients. And instead, they're gobbled up, by these big corporate middlemen that are just a huge problem in our system.

And as I said, eating up tens of billions of dollars? Kaitlan, when we made them bid for services, in New Jersey? In one year, just on our public sector workers health insurance, we saved $500 million. Imagine what they're doing, across the entire country, and how much money they're making. That's where I would start, as president.

COLLINS: But you're not prepared to say yes or no on the actual negotiations that are now allowed to happen, on at least these 10 drugs?

CHRISTIE: I'm saying, let me be clear, I'm saying no, until we squeeze the money out of these middlemen. Then, we can go and look at that, if there's a further need for action. So I'd say no, now.

The President has taken the easy path. He should take the hard path, and go after these pharmacy benefit managers, who are bringing no value to it.

The pharmaceutical companies are developing the greatest and best drugs, in the world, for American consumers and patients. Those patients deserve the rebates that the pharma companies are offering. And these middlemen are stealing it from them. And that's the people I would go after first, before I start using Medicare, to negotiate prices of drugs and further reductions.

COLLINS: A notable no, there.

Governor Chris Christie, thank you, for your time, tonight.


CHRISTIE: Kaitlan, thanks so much, for having me on.

And if people want to continue to hear the truth, go to, and donate. That's the way we keep this truth train going.

COLLINS: Thank you.

And tonight, we are still closely tracking Hurricane Idalia, as it is drawing ever closer to Florida. A live update, from the CNN Weather Center, next.


COLLINS: As Hurricane Idalia is advancing, on Florida, tonight, officials are sounding, the alarm, over a historic storm surge that is expected to hit the Big Bend area. The forecast, along the coast, is anywhere from three- to 15-, yes, 15-feet.

CNN's Chad Myers is back with me, to help break this down.


COLLINS: I mean, Chad, I mean, looking at this three- to 15-feet?


COLLINS: What would this even be like, for homes, in these areas, much less people, who didn't evacuate and could experience that?

MYERS: And I was thinking, most of this is Wildlife Management Area, the animals, all the wildlife that is going to start to be, hopefully running away, from that surge. It's going to be a sad scene, for a lot of people, I'm afraid.


105 miles per hour, right now. And I'm sure that this has even gone up, since the last pass, from the Hurricane Hunter aircraft. So, we'll keep you up to date on that.

Every time we get a new pass in, the numbers have been going up. Wind speed, the pressures have been going down. Look at the eye, right now. We have not had an eye all day. But about an hour ago, the eye popped, which means the storm is now breathing.

The storm is a living thing, not just a bunch of storms, just kind of all bouncing off each other. The rapid rotation, around the eye, the lift, and the sinking air, in the middle of the eye? This is how a storm rapidly intensifies, exactly what we anticipated, but we didn't see all day. Well now, it's happening.

One more thing that's happening? Thunderstorms are developing, just off the West Coast of Florida. Every single one of these, as they come on shore, could rotate a little bit, like a waterspout, coming on shore. Or if it actually starts right on shore, certainly, it would be a tornado. That threat is happening right now. Didn't have that threat for most of the day.

Here's what we're looking for. Cat 2, right now. But up here, in this Catcher's Mitt of the Big Bend of Florida, that's where the storm surge will be the worst. And some of this storm surge, Kaitlan, will go miles and miles inland.

We will see this, from the flatness, where sometimes -- some of this area only goes up one foot every mile. So, if you take a 15-foot storm surge, this thing could go on shore and inshore, for a very, very long time.

COLLINS: Yes, obviously, that's a huge concern especially with --


COLLINS: -- the supermoon and the high tide, making things worse.

Chad Myers, you are going to be busy. Thank you, for that tonight.

MYERS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Our coverage of Hurricane Idalia is going to continue.

Also this, a political controversy, exploding, again, in Tennessee. It is one you're familiar with. One of those same Democrats, who was expelled, from the State House, earlier this year, over a gun violence protest, silenced again, by Republicans. Why?

Representative Justin Jones, will join me, next.



COLLINS: Tennessee state lawmaker, Justin Jones, who infamously was expelled, from his seat, by his Republican colleagues, after a heated debate, on gun reform, before eventually being reinstated, has been silenced, by Republican lawmakers, yet again. During a special session, yesterday, on public safety measures, in the aftermath of that deadly national school shooting, that killed six people, including three children, Representative Jones was accused, of being quote, "Off topic," and was reprimanded, based on newly-imposed rules that were set by the Republican supermajority.

Joining me now is Democratic State Representative, Justin Jones.

And thank you, for being here.

You were ruled out of order. Can you just walk us through what happened, and what it was that you said that was deemed off topic?

JUSTIN JONES, (D) TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: Yes, Kaitlan. Well, thank you so much, for having me.

Today is a very sad day, for Tennessee, because we just adjourned our special session, not returning until January, without passing any commonsense gun laws, and once again, silencing voices of dissent.

Yesterday, I was silenced, in an unprecedented move, to enact new House rules that will stop me, for speaking, for the rest of the day, because I was caught talking about the need of my district, for more mental health support, more counselors, and not more armed guards, and guns, in our schools.

And for that the Speaker said I was off topic, and said that I was out of order, and that I could not speak for the rest of the day. And that if I was ruled out of order, again, I wouldn't be able to speak, for three days, and the next offense would be indefinitely.

So, this is what we're seeing happening, under these new House rules, being weaponized, to silence voices of dissent, as well as to criminalize mothers, who are in committee, holding up paper signs, who were dragged out, by troopers, for exercising their First Amendment right.

COLLINS: So, this special session is on public safety. You're bringing up things that you believe would increase public safety, and you were therefore ruled out of order. Is that right?

JONES: That's correct. I voiced the concerns of my district, District 52, in Tennessee, who said that we -- what will make us feel safe, or will help in this time of crisis, because of the continual occurrence, of mass shootings and gun violence, in our State, and in our nation. And I was not even able to voice those concerns.

And I think that's very unfortunate, because we're supposed to be a deliberative body, a legislative body. I'm a Representative, of my district, and I can't even speak for my district. The Speaker gaveled me off topic, and said I couldn't speak for the rest of the day.

But what he was really trying to stop, Kaitlan, was a motion for no- confidence that I had told him I was going to make, at the end of session, for under new business, to call a no vote -- a vote of no- confidence, in his leadership, because of his failure, as Speaker, attacking constitutional rights, silencing the voices of Tennesseans, refusing to take up seriously, the issue of gun violence, and he wanted to shut that down.

COLLINS: So, you're saying he just did it because he was mainly worried that you were going to call a no-confidence vote for him?

JONES: He was.

Even today, before we adjourned the session, once again I rose my hand, and sought recognition, to make the motion to vote no- confidence, in the Speaker of the House of Tennessee, Cameron Sexton, and he chose to ignore me and to go to one of his members, to merely call the adjournment vote.

And if he was confident, in his leadership, Kaitlan, he would take the vote. But what we're seeing is a Speaker, who is so fragile, and so afraid of being held accountable, that even his own Republican members are frustrated, with how he's led Tennessee.

You saw what happened, on April 6th, when we were expelled. You saw what happened, in their special session, with mothers, whose children were involved in shooting, in gun violence, at their school, being dragged out of committee.

I mean, the House in Tennessee is out of order. The Speaker is out of order. He should resign. But if he won't resign, I'll be back in January, to call for a no-confidence vote, in his leadership.

COLLINS: Right, because you are -- the whole point of this special session was to pursue these measures. You don't believe anything of substance was passed. And now, we'll see what January looks like.

Representative Justin Jones, thank you, again, for joining us, here tonight, on THE SOURCE.

JONES: Thank you so much, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And thank you all, so much, for joining us.

Of course, tonight, here on CNN, we are continuing our coverage, of Hurricane Idalia. It is forecast to make landfall, on Florida's Big Bend region, in just a matter of hours from now. We are tracking it all, very closely.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Abby Phillip, starts, right now.