CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: Interview With Florida Senator Bill Nelson



BLITZER: Yes, good point. All right, thank you very much, Jim Acosta.

Joining us now, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He's a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: I want to get to the latest news on the missing Saudi journalist and the other issues.

But, first, let's talk about the recovery effort in your home state of Florida right now. You have been in public service in Florida for decades. Describe the extent of the damage you are seeing. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

NELSON: The short answer is no.

I just came from Panama City and Mexico Beach. It is unlike any other hurricane that I have seen, except Hurricane Andrew, which was 1992 south of Miami. It leveled Homestead, Florida.

This leveled all of the structures that were old in Mexico Beach. They are rubble. The newer ones under the building code stood up. But, as -- just as I was there today, I met two residents, one who survived on the second floor of a condominium overlooking the beach. And he said he thought he was going to die.

Another one who had evacuated and was coming back to see his business, and, of course, there was nothing left of the business, and yet his attitude was the can-do spirit, we're going to get through this.

And that's the spirit that you will see in a lot of Floridians as they recover.

BLITZER: The FEMA administrator, Brock Long, says he expects the death toll to rise significantly. The death toll currently stands at 16. Based on what you are seeing firsthand, do you agree?

NELSON: In and around Mexico Beach they did not think they were going to find anybody else. They had searched, but it is a very small community.

Now, the greater Panama City area, there are so many homes that they haven't been able to get to. Wolf, the only good news was the good weather that stayed for the last two days after the hurricane blew through. If FEMA will get them the blue tarps, then they get them on their roof, because most every roof is damaged.

But if they can get those blue tarps on, then it is not going to ruin their house, because the rains have not come.

BLITZER: The president says he plans to tour the damage in Florida and Georgia early next week. Will you be joining President Trump on that tour?

NELSON: If I am invited, certainly. But I didn't need that, to wait until then to get in.

Marco Rubio, my colleague, we are already reaching out to FEMA to make sure they get all of the supplies and equipment in. I saw trucks coming in as I was leaving, but I will tell you, Wolf, there's going to be a lot of anguish, because there's no electricity, and it is going to be down for quite a while.

And there, in fact, is very little communication, with the main supplier of cell phones. They're down. So it is a frustrating time for people.

BLITZER: Let me turn to the news, Senator, on Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who worked -- works for "The Washington Post" who disappeared after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.


We have heard from some of your colleagues in the Senate who say they're convinced Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered by the Saudi regime. How do you see it?

NELSON: Well, of course, I have been in Panama City and Mexico Beach, so I'm not all up on it.

But I will just tell you, if they did murder him -- and that seems to be the reports from the Turks -- then I think we have got to have some serious consequences. Now, Saudi Arabia has been a good partner for us in the war against terrorism, and we certainly want to keep that assistance and relationship there. But we, the United States, that stand for human rights, you just can't

let a United States person who has a family of United States citizens, who is employed by a major newspaper, you cannot tolerate the fact that he would be lured into a Saudi consulate and brutally murdered.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, thanks so much for joining us.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to all of the folks in Florida. They need a lot of help.