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FEMA Pushes Back on Hurricane Funds Diverted to ICE; Trump Defends Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico Despite Deaths of Thousands; Poll: More Approval of Mueller Than of Trump; Trump Signs Executive Order Aimed at Punishing Russia, Others Meddling in U.S. Elections; Some Resident Defy Evacuation Orders & Left on Their Own; Multiple Senate Races Dead Even; Federal Budget Deficit Exploding. Aired 1:30- 2p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: But take a look at the numbers. An "unsung success." Over 3,000 people over the years have died as a result of this Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The original toll they thought was about 64, now it's 2,975. And the president says this was an incredible unsung success.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D), CALIFORNIA: Maybe he's talking about his ability to toss paper towels. He seems to be pretty good at that. But in terms of protecting Americans, it's a disaster. It's a disaster for Puerto Rico, what happened there. The FEMA did not do its job. They were not prepared. And in addition to that people died. And today, more than a year later, this problem still exists in Puerto Rico.

BLITZER: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

GARAMENDI: There's people without power. The infrastructure has not been repaired. The economy of the island is just devastated. And the president's operating in his own reality. He's not operating on what's happening in America and the rest of the world.

BLITZER: And let's not forget that the people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.

GARAMENDI: Absolutely.

BLITZER: These are Americans and it's an awful situation.

I want to put some numbers on a different subject --

GARAMENDI: Sure.

BLITZER: -- of a new poll that CNN has just released, showing what the American people think about the Russia investigation, and how Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is handling, as opposed to the president. What do you think of the Russia investigation, 61 percent, think it's a serious matter, 33 percent discredit the -- discredit Trump for this matter. And 33 percent don't trust the president -- trust the president on this. And 72 percent believe the president should testify in the investigation, 23 percent don't. The president and his attorneys are trying supposedly to work out at least some written answers to questions, where is this heading?

GARAMENDI: Can I say you're wrong? The attorneys are doing everything they can to keep the president from testifying. They know that --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani says they're trying to work out some sort of arrangement where there would be written answers to questions about what happened during the campaign, so-called collusion, but they wouldn't do questions written or oral about obstruction of office after the president took office.

GARAMENDI: If you believe Rudy Giuliani, you're making a mistake. This man is all over the parking lot. He changes his narrative every single day. The fact of the matter is we need to know what's going on here. We need to know what the president did, when he knew what was going on. And the fact of the matter is he must testify, he must come under oath and tell the American people what he knew, what he did. And if he didn't do anything, that's fine. But this investigation has to move forward. It is critically important. This is the biggest scandal in America's presidential history. And there have been some whoppers in the past.

BLITZER: There's been some huge scandals in American history.

GARAMENDI: Yes, absolutely. Never been one quite like this. We're talking about the fundamentals of --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Does it rise to the resignation of President Nixon?

GARAMENDI: We'll see where this goes. We'll see whether it goes to resignation or impeachment. Or maybe it goes nowhere beyond where it is today. But we need to know, as Americans, what happens. We do know that the Russians interfered in the American election. We do know that today they are continuing their effort to interfere in our election, not only with social media, but also in the election process itself. This has to be straightened out. We need the president to testify. The circle around him is very, very tight. What did you know, Mr. President, and when did you know it? The question from Watergate needs to be answered by this president.

BLITZER: The president just signed today an executive order meant to punish foreign entities -- reading now -- "for interfering in U.S. elections." An attempt clearly to demonstrate muscle on this very sensitive issue. Your reaction?

GARAMENDI: Too little too late. We have known since the beginning of his presidency that the Russians were messing around in the American electoral process. It was said by al of the intelligence agencies. And now more than 60 days before the election, he issues an executive order, at the same time that he's allowed his Republican Congress to take $300 million out of the appropriations to be used by electoral programs across the state to protect their systems. Come on, Mr. President, too little, too late, but thank god for doing something.

BLITZER: I will point out that two U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, just issued a joint statement on the president's signing of this executive order. Among other things, they say, "Today's announcement by the administration recognizes the threat but does not go far enough to address it. The United States can and must do more mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks our electoral system, serve as the best deterrent."

GARAMENDI: All well and good. We need to whack them everywhere we can. But at the same time, we need to take steps to protect our electoral process. We know the Russians are attempting to get into the voter registration rolls. All they need to do is change one numeral in the address and those people won't be able to vote. How many people can they, in that process, make their voting opportunity unavailable to them because the voter rolls have been changed? We know they have attempted to do that. We know there's a problem going on in Florida and in other states. Money needs to be immediately available so that the states can improve their electoral protections. And if there's not a paper trail out there of the ballots, we're making a big mistake.

[13:35:33] BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks very much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: More than 25 million people now in the projected path of Hurricane Florence. A critical new update on the storm's path, speed, and strength, moments away.

And live pictures from Swan Quarter in North Carolina where the last ferry from some of the barrier islands just docked. Residents left behind will be trapped until after the storm. Why are they defying evacuation orders? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:40:39] BLITZER: From late Thursday night through early Sunday morning, Hurricane Florence will only travel about 150 miles. That's literally slower than a walking pace, about two to three miles on average per hour. So the Carolina coast will experience hurricane- force winds, life-threatening storm surge and copious amounts of rainfall for a long time.

Our senior correspondent, Drew Griffin, is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Our CNN correspondent, Brian Todd, is in Swan Quarter, North Carolina.

Drew, the National Weather Service calls Hurricane Florence a storm of a lifetime. Are people where you are taking the warnings seriously? DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That forecast

they woke up to here this morning, showing that southward bend, really was a wakeup call, especially to the Myrtle Beach area. The city manager here issuing an executive order telling people to stay out of the ocean. You can see that nobody is here. The reason is they want all their first responders today on this last day to concentrate on evacuating people. And you can see it from highways from here in Myrtle Beach, all the way down to Charleston, both directions of the highway are now facing away from the ocean as people try to get out of the path of this storm. It's not just that there might be a hit here in Myrtle Beach. It's the duration, a three-day possible event. As one official said, this is a thrill ride you really don't want to be on. And 1,300 people spent the night in shelters, according to the Red Cross here in South Carolina, as of last night. Those numbers expected to go. So answer, yes, Wolf, they are taking it very serious here and every business will shut down on Myrtle Beach at 5:00 tonight -- Wolf?

BLITZER: As they should.

Brian, you're there. Also the storm could devastate the barrier islands. You've been watching the ferries today. Have they been full trying to get people out of there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most of them have been full, Wolf. This one behind me docked a short time ago. Cars streaming off, dozens of cars, and then people came off of it. And then this one behind me here did the same. I'll take you to this area where this last ferry docked a little over an hour ago. They're coming from Ocracoke Island, which is about 25 miles of the of here. It's one of the most isolated barrier islands in these Outer Banks island chain. This was the ferry that docked a little after noon eastern time. They are mooring these ferries down right now. These guys are putting the moorings on the pylons here. This was the last chance for people to get off Ocracoke Island.

We talked to two people who did take advantage of this kind of last desperate chance to get off that island. Their names are Jonathan Ferrera and Georgiana Lyons. They're longtime residents of that isolated barrier island. This is what they said about why they decided to get off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGIANA LYONS, OCRACOKE ISLAND RESIDENT: Well, with the 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 think it's safer.

JONATHAN FERRERA, OCRACOKE ISLAND RESIDENT: If I definitely did not want to. I packed up everything as well as I could and got it all prepped up and boarded up the windows. Got my boat with me, got my dog with me. It's not what I wanted to do, but it's what I had to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Now we're told that a total of about 2,100 people have evacuated from Ocracoke Island and about 1,000 vehicles have come off. But there are about 900 permanent residents of Ocracoke Island. And we just spoke to the commissioner of Hyde County, North Carolina, who lives on Ocracoke Island, Tom Pahl. And he estimates that maybe about 200 people are staying on Ocracoke Island. And, Wolf, that island is only accessible by boat even under normal circumstances. After this hurricane starts to hit, those people will be trapped. They'll be stranded, possibly for days. And they may not get ferries to them really any time soon. So they have to know what they're getting into. And they're telling them that even emergency services are shut down, do not all emergency services during the storm because they simply cannot get to them -- Wolf?

[13:44:41] BLITZER: I hope they're OK. It's a really dangerous situation.

Brian, thank you very much.

Drew, thanks to you as well.

We'll stay in close touch with both of you.

Meanwhile, there's other news we're following, including a November knife fight. That's how one Senate leader is now viewing the upcoming midterm elections. But is he just crying wolf? We'll take the temperature from Capitol Hill.

Plus, there's breaking news. The man in charge of "60 Minutes" is now out amid accusations of inappropriate conduct. We have new details. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "Hoping to hand on" - that's how the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's going into the midterm elections. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We know this is going to be a very challenging election on the Senate side. I'll just list you a bunch of races that are dead even, Arizona Nevada, Tennessee, Montana; North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida. All of them too close to call. Every one of them like a knife fight in an alley. I mean, just a brawl in every one of those places. I hope when the smoke clears, we'll still have the majority in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:50:26] BLITZER: Senator McConnell there mentioning nine states specifically as a close call, but only three of those states are where Republicans trying to hold seats. The rest are so-called red states with Democrats in the Senate seat in those states.

Senator Mike Rounds is joining us from Capitol Hill. He's a Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

What do you think? Senator McConnell, the majority leader, saying he hopes when the smoke clears the Republicans will still have a majority in the Senate. Do you see these races as close as the majority leader is making it sound?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS, (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think he's correct. He's got good numbers to look at. I also think he is sending a wake-up call to says we shouldn't be complacent. I have run for office successfully 11 times and, in every one of those, I always assume I'm five points down and I'm looking for the next vote. That's way we have to look at every single Senate race out there. We have to be on top of it. We can't rest. We can't think, well, we will be OK, we've got some room to play with. Absolutely not. We got to be in and working on every single one of those races. We have to have the team behind us. We have to have the financial support as well.

BLITZER: Which is smart.

We are seeing, as you know, a pretty sharp drop in the president's approval rating, down to 36 percent in our brand-new CNN poll. That's a six-point drop from a month ago. It's an even steeper decline -- look at this, Senator -- when you look at Independent voters, just 31 percent. That's down from 47 percent a little while ago. Is there something you can pin that drop on? Do you think the drop among Independents will have an immediate effect in the midterm elections?

ROUNDS: I think part of it has to do -- and I think you'll notice in the Midwest there's been a drop. Part of it has to do with tariffs. It has to do with the fact that the farm economy is dependent on having outside market available. I had a chance to talk with the president last Friday. He is aware of it. He has assured us that he'll do everything he can to try to move forward as quickly as possible. He says, look, they've had some tough trade deals in the past. He wants to make them better. Folks if my part of the country, they're going to stick with the president at this stage of the game. What they're saying is, look, we knew we didn't have the best trade deals before, so he's fighting for us, he's trying to do his best, we'll give him some time. I hope the president is able to do something. I think that will bring those approval ratings -- at least to the Midwest, I they will help him, if he can do the trade deals with Mexico and Canada, and get to work on the deal with China. But China will be a little bit more difficult challenge to work on.

BLITZER: As you know, House Republicans -- you're in the Senate -- but House Republicans are looking to push through another round of permanent tax cuts. Look at this. Right now, thanks, in part, to the first round of cuts, we see the federal deficit is now up this year, the annual budget deficit, 32 percent or an increase of $222 billion to a whopping $895 billion. That's the budget deficit this year. You can see how it's been increasing, especially since President Trump took office. So what happened to that part of the Republican Party that was serious

about cutting spending and cutting budget deficits?

ROUNDS: Yes, I think part of the challenge is systemic. That is that, in the United States Congress, we only vote on about 30 percent of what we spend. We don't vote on the spending for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or interest on the debt. That's 70 percent of the money that's actually being spent. Some people will say, well, look, he's talking about cutting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, but that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is you have to manage those programs so they're here for the next generation. But if you're not managing them, they can get out of hand real quick. We have right now is we only vote on 30 percent of the budget, which is about $1.4 trillion a year. You have an $835 billion shortfall. You can't fix it simply by cutting defendant spending. It doesn't work that way. But the reason for the tax cuts was to help grow this economy. The economy is growing at over 4 percent. You're seeing wages go up 2.9 percent. Unemployment is still under 4 percent. Those are good signs that, if we grow this economy, there will be more dollars there that add to our tax base. I think we will not only pay for those tax cuts, but we will have some money to apply against that deficit. But you can't do it unless you actually manage the entire budget. We haven't done that in 44 years. It is a systemic issue that's got to be addressed.

[13:55:07] BLITZER: But that budget deficit is exploding. Next year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will be more than a trillion dollars of budget deficit in one year alone. And that is clearly, clearly unacceptable to you, and I'm sure to so many of your colleagues. But it looks like it's not going to change. Let's see what happens down the road.

Senator Rounds, thank you so much for joining us.

ROUNDS: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, there's breaking news coming into CNN. We're just getting word of another major departure at CBS. According to a staff memo, "60 Minutes" executive producer, Jeff Fager, is out. He's out, effective immediately. The president of CBS News says Fager is being ousted based on accusations of inappropriate conduct. CBS says the action is not directly related to the recent allegations of inappropriate touching reported by Ronan Farrow in the "New Yorker" magazine. Fager denied those allegations. He just released a statement saying, in part, that CBS fired him because he sent a harsh text message to a CBS reporter about a story she was working on. We will have more details and a live report. That's coming up later in the next hour here on CNN. But another big loss, big departure at CBS.

We are getting some live pictures from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Right now, the National Weather Service coming out with its latest storm prediction. Stay with us. Full coverage, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)