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NC Outer Banks Residents Seize Last Chance to Flee Storm; FEMA Report Admits Failures in Puerto Rico Response; Dems Using Healthcare As 2018 Closing Pitch. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:34] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The latest now on Hurricane Florence. CNN has reporters up and down the East Coast watching today's mass evacuations. For some islands in Florence's path, the only way off is by boat.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us now from a ferry terminal in North Carolina where he's been talking to people fleeing Ocrocoke Island, one of the most isolated parts of the outer banks. Brian, is the evacuation window, excuse me, now closed for those people?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that evacuation is pretty much over. Right behind me, you're looking at the last chance that people had to get off Ocrocoke Island. This ferry just duck a few minutes ago is the last ferry off that island, there will be no more today or tomorrow before the storm. You can see these guys behind me, they've just done some work to moor this ferry here. That ferry over here landed a few minutes before that, that is now moored down for the next several. And they've moored a couple of ferries over here.

We're told that more than 2,000 people including visitors and permanent residents did get off Ocrocoke Island. More than a thousand vehicles made it off. They've just been streaming in here all morning in kind of a last, desperate attempt to get off that island.

We spoke to people, residents of Ocrocoke Island, Mr. -- Jonathan Ferreira is his name and a lady name Georgeann Lyons, they talked by why they wanted to leave.


GEORGEANN LYONS, OCROCOKE, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: Well, with a Category 4, you could have lots of ocean over wash and flooding and I just worry the roof might blow off or windows might crash in so I just think it's safer.

JONATHAN FERREIRA, OCROCOKE, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: I definitely did not want to. I mean, I packed up everything as I could and got it all prepped up and boarded the windows, got my boat with me, got my dog with me. So -- it's not what I wanted to do, but it's what I had to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: And we just spoke to the commissioner of Hyde County, North Carolina, he lives on Ocrocoke Island. He said that despite all the evacuations, some 200 people, he estimates have elected to stay on the island. So they are pretty much isolated right now, John.

We just saw some ambulances come off the ferry, and we're told that emergency is services are shut down on the island now. So they're telling people not to call during the storm because they cannot get to them. If there are 200 people on that island, John, they could be stranded maybe several days.

KING: For several days. I appreciate the gentleman, not what I wanted to do but what I had to do. Brian Todd, keep in touch. Appreciate the reporting. Brian Todd there, tracking that evacuation.

The president this morning, part of the federal response urging extreme caution, asking those in the storm's path, please do not tempt faith.


[12:35:04] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Get out of its way, don't play games with it. It's a big one. Everything you can imagine, we are ready. But despite that, bad things can happen when you're talking about a storm this size, it's called Mother Nature, you never know but we know.


KING: Right there, you heard it, a serious warning from the president of a potentially historic national disaster. But as Florence approaches, the president also facing fresh criticism for trying to re-write the history of his administration's response when Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico.


TRUMP: I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. I think it is certainly the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, that's -- it's harder to understand. It was a very hard thing to do because of the fact they had no electric, before the storms hit, it was dead as you probably know.


KING: Hurricane Maria we now we know killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Many who died while after the storm hit. That's more than the number that perished in Hurricane Katrina.

Back to the conversation now. Again, kudos to the president for his warning about Florence, a lot of FEMA briefings already, it seems like they're raising the right alarms, the coordination. I talked to a mayor earlier who says, so far no hiccups in the state, federal, local coordination effort. But the idea that just the Maria comments yesterday are just -- JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It was known

reality and the problem with this is, if there were no lessons learned at all from what happened in Puerto Rico, well, then that is pretty sad. Because -- I mean, yes, Puerto Rico is different than what's happening in North Carolina and South Carolina. We all know the challenges there. No doubt about it.

But this politically speaking, you know, it's just outrageous to say something that it was an unsung success. It wasn't a success. You talk to people inside the government even at FEMA and they say, you know, look, we did the best we could but, you know, to say that it was an unsung success, this is what the president is unable to do, admit anything happened wrong on his watch.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: But it's also perplexing because, you know, he's undercutting his own message. He's trying to say today, don't worry, I'm going to be there for you, FEMA's going to be there for you, we got you. But if he's saying that Puerto Rico was a success, that's -- like -- how is he able to say that and still, you know, console these people and give them this sense of security.

KING: And to that point, you saw the president's answer yesterday but the question was any lessons from Puerto Rico and that was the president's answer, unprecedented success, unsung success. Here's what the president says on Twitter. "Today, we got A plusses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida and did an unpreced -- unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though in an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and totally incompetent mayor."

So the president again stirring up the politics here. It is a fair point to say that the blame could be pass around when it comes to Maria as it's often the case to state, local, federal officials. However, why? Answer that question that way and then pick the political fight, stir the political fight there.

To your point, this is FEMA's own after action report. FEMA, the Trump administration, the president's people. "Because FEMA and its partners lacked situational awareness early in the response, the agency initially could not be certain that FEMA and interagency partner efforts were sufficient to stabilize the incident in Puerto Rico." So polite government there but essentially, we made mistakes. We made mistakes and we're trying to learn from them. That's what the government should do.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And folks in Puerto Rico admit to that. They basically say that there were failures to go all around, including the mayor of San Juan there. And, you know, that report essentially said they sent a bunch of people to Puerto Rico who weren't qualified. I think something like 56 percent of the people who they sent there weren't qualified to do the work they had to do. A lot of them didn't speak Spanish in that Spanish-speaking island.

And so, yes -- I mean, he is very off message here but I think to Jeff's point, this is what he does. He wants to create his own reality and I think it gets to what you see in those approval numbers and those favorability numbers. This might work with the base but it doesn't work with everybody because they can see T.V., they can see with their own eyes what happened in Puerto Rico.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. His brand is never apologize, never back down. And I guess we probably shouldn't be surprised that he's trying to claim victory over the Puerto Rico hurricane aftermath given the fact that on a range of issues, he refuses to back down.

And look, he's raised questions that that was his voice on the "Access Hollywood" tape which he actually by the way -- it's one of the moments where he did eventually apologize. And now he's trying to walk that back. So we shouldn't be surprised that he's taking this tack. I think covering this president for three and a half years now, this is pretty standard operating procedure.

KING: Standard operating procedure.

Up next, the quick break here. New CNN polls revealing what voters think about the special counsel investigation.


[12:44:28] KING: Topping our political radar today, approval for the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's handling of the Russia investigation now stands at 50 percent, according to a brand new CNN poll. That's up several points from last month, and 20 percent higher than President Trump's 30percent approval for how he's handling the investigation. This is CNN's first poll since Paul Manafort's conviction and Michael Cohen's guilty plea.

President Trump just signed an executive order on election interference. The order now allows the director of national intelligence to identify foreign actors responsible for meddling in U.S. elections and then target them with sanctions.

[12:45:02] Voters in New Hampshire's first congressional district last night setting up a history making November match up. Democrats nominated Manchester politician Chris Pappas who would be the state's first openly gay congressman. Republicans chose Eddie Edwards, a former police chief who would become the state's first African- American congressman. The district is considered deeply purple but did break for President Trump in 2016.

Stormy Daniels told ABC's "The View" she will have a new book joining all the authors out there in October called "Full Disclosure". Full disclosure she says of her alleged affair with President Trump. In the interview she said she broke down into sobs when former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen admitted in court Donald Trump directed him to pay her hush money. The president and Cohen now trying to end their involvement in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. Daniels' lawyer fighting that both.

Up next for us, Democrats closing pitch. What they're using as their final midterm message for November. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:50:49] KING: Welcome back, the president's sagging poll numbers give Democrats a giant opening for midterm election gains. The burden now on the Democrats is to close the sale. Healthcare is far and away their message of choice. Here's just two examples here, these both from big Trump state Senate races. This from Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: That's me, shooting the cap and trade bill, because it was bad for West Virginia. Now the threat is Patrick Morrissey's lawsuit, to take away healthcare from people with pre-existing conditions. He is just dead wrong and that's ain't going to happen. I'm Joe Manchin and I approved this message because for me, it's all about West Virginia.


KING: Joe Manchin there. This from Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota.


SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Denise (ph) has a pre-existing condition that used to mean no health insurance. For me it's breast cancer, for Denise it's heart disease. She has something she'd like to say to Kevin Cramer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Cramer, I don't know why you voted to let insurance companies go back to denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, but I know Heidi would never do that.


KING: You write about this on today. We're seeing this across the board in different parts of the country. Democrats think this is the right close. Why?

HENDERSON: They think it's the right close because on the one hand, it pretty much galvanizes progressives, right? Even though you have progressives who want Medicare for all, you also just have a general sense that all Democrats want to talk about healthcare. And they also feel like it's a bridge to independence.

You notice in these ads that there's no necessarily mention of ObamaCare, it's basically -- it's about healthcare. You have Heidi Heitkamp there personalizing the pre-existing it, talking about her own pre-existing condition. Joe Manchin on the (INAUDIBLE) also talks about his pre-existing condition. He got knee replacement surgery at one point. So they think it's sort of a catch all for them to not only galvanize the left, but also be able to cross a bridge and get those independents with this kitchen table issue that is ultimately people's pocketbooks and the economy.

KING: And let's bring some more into it. Two Senate races there, here's from three House races in different parts of the country.


JOE MORELLE (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE, NEW YORK: Donald Trump and his allies are taking a wrecking ball to healthcare. Premiums could go up thousands this year. Now Donald Trump wants to end protections for pre-existing conditions like cancer, leaving millions more uninsured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama's two biggest wins for Michigan families were the auto rescue and healthcare reform. Now that Donald Trump is trying to sabotage ObamaCare, I'm running for Congress to protect and improve it, to lower costs and get more people coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was told I had cancer, my first thought was for my kids who need their dad. Now I'm cancer-free but thousands aren't as fortunate. So in the legislature, I work to protect healthcare and hospitals here at home.


KING: It is striking yet one ad that did actually mentioned ObamaCare. Again, in a smaller House district you might think (INAUDIBLE) in your particular district. But, if you go back to 2010 where the Democrats got wiped out in Obama midterm. And then in 2014, wiped out in Obama midterm. They were running from this president and running from healthcare.

MARTIN: Here's why. The theoretical versus the tangible.


MARTIN: The history of government benefits in this country is that once they take (INAUDIBLE) and they're on the bus, they typically become much more popular. And the fact is, is that, you know, ObamaCare is not theoretical anymore, ObamaCare is real, and losing your coverage because you have a condition is not some theoretical notion of a big government healthcare takeover. It's a real issue that impacts your life.

And I think once that happened and as importantly, once Obama was out of the picture and the Obama part of ObamaCare was drained and became more about the care from Obama, I think it became an issue that Democrats could go on offense about all over the country.

KING: To that point as you jumped at, I just want to show these graphics. Fifty-five percent of the Democrats' T.V. money right now is going in House races, 55 percent going into healthcare messages, 47 percent on the Senate side going in to healthcare messages. So that clearly -- this is across the board, they think -- they wouldn't be doing it if they didn't think it would work and without a data to support that.

[12:55:06] ZELENY: No question about it. I'm actually struck conversely being at a rally that the president's having, how much they're not talking about it. ObamaCare is not the boogeyman anymore. I mean, this has been the sound track for election after election after election really for the last eight years or so. That's not the case, people are getting something taken away from them and they're afraid of it.

And the Republicans haven't really offered an alternative message for that. The president is not talking about it necessarily, Republicans aren't. So I'm not surprise by this but I think those ads are very effective in those Senate races. The question is, is that enough in a state like North Dakota, I want to see but it certainly --

HENDERSON: Their repeal and replace effort, it of course failed, but it made it all the more real. All those headlines about how many people would lose coverage, people remember that.

BADE: And just a quick note, Senate Republicans are worried that this is really going to resonate. They have actually introduced their own bill that they would say protects pre-existing conditions, even if the courts knock it down in the next couple of weeks.

KING: Introduced their own bill and it's -- yes. If they act on it in September, that's the problem. This is the problem, there's a lot of talk from the Republicans that's shocking.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Appreciate your time, see you back here this time tomorrow.

A live look here as we go, of Folly Beach, South Carolina. Our special coverage of Hurricane Florence in its path toward the coast continues next hour. Wolf Blitzer starts after a quick break.