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Harvey Intensifies, takes Aim at Texas Coast; Trump's Escalating War with GOP Lawmakers; Trump Hits Back at Corker: "Tennessee not Happy!". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are going to get a new update from the National Hurricane Center this hour. While we wait for that, let's go first to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's standing pretty much in Harvey's crosshairs. He is in Corpus Christi, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Good morning. We have been standing here on the bay of the seawall, seeing this water rise inch by inch throughout the morning. The wind in Corpus Christi has been the story of the day so far. But the rain will come later.

Local officials have been doing the best they can to try to get residents to heed evacuation warnings. Even still, these coastal residents are used to severe weather. I'm joined by some of them whom decided to stick it out. George and probably the coolest 6-year-old I have seen, his little son Kai.

George, why did you guys decide to stay?

GEORGE GALVIN, CORPUS CHRISTI RESIDENT: Just, I didn't think it was going to be that bad. So we just boarded up the house and got supplies and just going to ride it on.

VALENCIA: You have been through something like this before are you saying?

GALVIN: Yes, when I was little, when I was a kid. So I saw my dad boarding up the house. I mean, me and my mom went to a shelter, but it turned out not to be that bad. So we just ended up going back home.

VALENCIA: Does it worry you at all that city officials are saying, man, this is going to be probably one of the worst storms we have ever seen and that Category 3.

GALVIN: It kind of does but like right on impulse. Like it's kind of just like, man, I guess we just have enough to just boarded up the windows and hunker down.

VALENCIA: Take us into your mind. Take us into your mind. What makes you want to stay? I mean, is it just not leaving your home not knowing what's going to happen, not abandoning?

GALVIN: Yes, well, basically like my parents and my wife's parents, she's a bit worried about them too. So they are going to ride it out, so we are going to ride out too.

VALENCIA: What do you think, Kai? Are you worried about the storm at all?


VALENCIA: A little bit. What do you know about the hurricane that's coming?

KAI: I don't know.

VALENCIA: Just a little bit. There's going to be some wind and rain?

KAI: Yes.

VALENCIA: We hope you stay safe. Take care of your dad. You're going to take care of your dad?

KAI: Yes.

VALENCIA: All right. Thanks guys very much for taking the time. Good luck, be safe.

So you saw there, George and his son Kai. They decided to stick it out. Some people are saying they are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. Experts say, believe the hype, this storm maybe something that we have never seen before. John?

BERMAN: Yes, I got to say, George saying I don't think it's going to be that bad is very different, Nick, than what we are hearing from meteorologists and experts, including the National Hurricane Center who say they should be prepared for a very significant disaster. A Category 3 is a major hurricane and three feet of rain over the next five days is no joke. So we certainly wish our best to that family and that young boy.

All right, this storm, not just a coastal event, it could affect thousands, if not millions across the state even inland. Polo Sandoval in San Antonio. Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it's amazing what 130 miles, how big of a difference that is. For example, we are in San Antonio right now. The sun is actually shining for now. But the conditions expected to change very soon, later this afternoon as we begin to see some of the outer band from this hurricane.

The winds are one thing. But the flooding potential here is the other. And -- that is a big concern for some of the city's inland like Houston, like Austin, or here in San Antonio, where many of these evacuees will be riding out the storm. That's because many of these cities are prone to flooding. And that includes here in San Antonio, some of those low lying areas.

So the concern here is when that storm really just hangs around this part of Texas for days, it is going to dump serious amounts of rain in this part of the country. And the result could be some of the devastating flooding. So that really is the focus of the warning coming from officials in some of the cities, some of these inland Texas cities. To take the storm serious, enjoy this weather and also most importantly, use these few hours of solid weather to be able to finish and finalize those plans for what could be some pretty nasty flooding throughout the weekend. John?

BERMAN: All right, Polo Sandoval in San Antonio. Dry for now. Polo, thank you so much.

I want to get right to meteorologist Allison Chinchar for the latest on the forecast. We are expecting an update from the National Hurricane Center in just a few minutes. Where are we right now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We are still sitting at 110 miles per hour. Again, that is one one-mile-per-hour below a Category 3 strength storm. We expect it to get to a Category 3 storm today. We've been talking about this for a while. That upgrade may come in in five minutes. It may take five more hours.

But I will point out that in the last hour or two, you can start to see that eye begin to come back. We've been going to what we can an eyewall replacement cycle. Basically, what this means is the storm, as a whole, is trying to re-strengthen and intensify, which is not good news because it is trying to do it just before land fall.

Here is a look at the radar. You can see some of those outer bands are already pushing into Galveston as well as Houston. And more of those heavy bands will continue to push through. Here you can see the number three and another number three. Meaning we expect it to get up to Category 3 strength before it makes land fall.

Now, after that point, land fall should be between about midnight tonight and 7:00 a.m. early Saturday morning. After that, though, it's not really going to move much in the next 48 hours after that. Because of that, we are going to be talking about incredible amounts of rain. Because that storm is just going to sit over the same spot and produce rain over and over.

[10:05:01] So, wide spread, that red and orange area, you are talking about four to eight inches of rain. Then you start to see in places like Texas, between Houston and Corpus Christi, the purple and the white. Indicating we could be looking an excessive 15, even 20 inches of rain.

Louisiana is also going to have the potential for heavy rain, even though it won't be as much as Texas. Storms are just also going to be a big threat. We are talking areas of five to seven feet south of Galveston and south of Corpus Christi. But that region between Bay City and Corpus Christi, we could be looking at 6-12 feet as those winds take all of that water from the gulf and push it inwards.

So here are just a couple of the areas. Galveston, we are looking at about an additional 2.8 feet and Corpus Christi, about 1.3 feet. Basically, what that means is it's taking the water where it would normally be, pushing it up and then pushing it in. And that can cause roads to flood on its own. Let alone you're factoring in the amount of rain that will fall from the sky.

Here is a look at the radar. Again, we've talked about it, some of those heavy bands starting to push back in. But the main portion of the storm, the center of circulation that we talked about, that is still yet to arrive. That's where some of your strongest winds are going to push in. But right here is a look at Ingleside. We have got some light showers out there right now, but likely going to get much heavier as the day goes on.

BERMAN: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you so much. Talking about Ingleside right there across the bay from Corpus Christi, joining me now is the city manager of Ingleside, Melissa Vossmer. Melissa, if you can hear me how are things in your city right now?

MELISSA BYRNE VOSSMER, CITY MANAGER OF INGLESIDE (via telephone): Things are actually pretty quiet. The wind has started picking up. Obviously, we are anticipating that to grow throughout the day. It's been raining imminently. We don't have any standing water at this point. But we are prepared for the rain that we have been told is coming. We are looking for the update from the Weather Service just in a little while.

BERMAN: Yes, that's a few minutes from now. What concerns you most?

VOSSMER: I think concerns me most is exactly what everyone is talking about, the amount of water, where is it going to go, and how is it going to drain? Ingleside is a very low lying city and it's a fairly flat city. And as a result, water has a tendency to stand because it drains very slowly.

And so, you take that and you have to pushback from the tide and, you know, I think we are going run into the situation where we just are going to be inundated with water, based on the word that we are getting.

BERMAN: Yes, we are hearing a possible significant storm surge, not to mention, up to three feet of rain in some areas. Do you have a sense of how much you can handle in Ingleside?

VOSSMER: Actually, no, I don't. I have been here just six months. And so, we had a major flood. We had over 100 year event in May of last year. And we had dozens of homes impacted by that. We have drainage problems. As I've said, we are very flat. The water tends to move very slowly and it stands around, literally. So, we are bracing for the worst.

BERMAN: Obviously. We wish you the best of luck. We are all thinking about you. Just a few moments ago, we heard - our Nick Valencia was across the bay in Corpus Christi, was talking to a young man and his son, who've decided to ride this storm out despite the warnings from national officials, from state officials, from city officials. What would be your message to residents like that?

VOSSMER: You know, there's still time to leave. I would encourage folks to do that, to think very carefully. We put into effect yesterday, a mandatory evacuation. Before that, it had been voluntary. And I know folks have ridden out storms before, but, you know, if you listen to the weather people who are the experts, this is one of those storms that we perhaps have not seen before.

And if you can leave, you need to leave. We actually are getting calls this morning. There's a last bus that's leaving from the Aransas Pass Civic Center at about 10:00 p.m. If they can get over there, they can be bussed to I believe they're going to Kerrville. So, I would highly recommend people take advantage of that if they are at all worried.

BERMAN: And of course, they don't just put themselves at risk by staying, you also put first responders at risk as well. City Manager Melissa Byrne Vossmer, thank you so much for being with us. Again, we wish you the best of luck in Ingleside.

VOSSMER: Thank you.

BERMAN: And we are just minutes away from this new update on the forecast track and strength of Hurricane Harvey. Please stay with CNN for that.

Plus, the president's rift with Republicans just got a little wider. We will tell you why. Stay with us.


[10:18:44] BERMAN: With a devastating storm bearing down on the Texas Coast, the president has had a lot to say this morning about a lot of things, Hurricane Harvey not one of them, at least not this morning, instead, new volleys in his feud with Republican leaders.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning. Kaitlan, what's going on?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, John. The president is picking another fight with the Republican senator today. This is his fifth senator in two weeks that he's publicly feuded with. And this time, it's Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee. He went after him on Twitter this morning. Let's look at what he said.

Trump tweeted, "Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in 2018. Tennessee not happy!"

Now, this tweet from the president comes about a week after Corker criticized him for his comments regarding the violence in Charlottesville. Let's listen to what Corker had to say.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the confidence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.


COLLINS: Now, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this criticism yesterday at the press briefing.

[10:15:00] But she said she was not going to dignify Corker's comments with a response from the Briefing Room podium. But it looks like the president chose to do just that this morning on his Twitter account. But overall, John, what we are seeing here is a sustained campaign on behalf of the president against Republicans at a time when he really needs them now more than ever.

BERMAN: Yes, descent from Capitol Hill. Also this morning, some new descent from inside the White House, his top economic adviser, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Gary Cohn, Trump's top economic adviser here in the White House, did this really extraordinary interview with the "Financial Times." I want to read two excerpts from that.

Gary Cohn said, "This administration can and must do better and consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities."

Now, he told the "Financial Times" that he had felt pressured to resign from his position. But he said that, "As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post... because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people."

"I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks."

Now, this is pretty shocking criticism, John, from someone who is in the president's inner circle. I don't think we have ever seen this since Trump took office in January on the record. And it just shows to show Gary Cohn was there, at Trump Tower, when the president said that there was violence on both sides in Charlottesville. It clearly made him very uncomfortable. But it's not likely that the president will agree or even like this criticism, because as you know on Tuesday night at his rally in Phoenix, he said his words on Charlottesville were, quote, "perfect." John?

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Gary Cohn didn't think they were perfect. I think that's clear.

Let's discuss this more. Errol Louis is here, CNN political commentator, Caitlyn Huey-Burns, national political reporter and Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst.

Guys, you know, Errol, let me start with you. Gary Cohn is publicly saying how distressed he was by the president's Charlottesville response. He says, "Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK." Now, as we said, the president claims he did not equate them. Gary Cohn clearly indicating he thinks he did. I have to believe the president is not going to be happy with this.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president is not going to be happy with this in part because it is a public conversation. This is Gary Cohn. After the White House as far as their concern, has put this behind him all of a sudden. I guess due to the publication's schedule and the little bad timing.

Here it is back on the national agenda. Here it is, one of his top advisers breaking from the president and from the White House line and sort of stirring it up, once again going into this weekend. So it's going to have a little bit of extra life to it. It's going to raise a lot of different questions and Gary Cohn may not have the option of deciding whether or not he wants to resign.

BERMAN: He chooses his words very carefully here. He says, "I am reluctant to leave my post" as if it is something he seriously considered. And our friend, Maggie Haberman, is reporting, he had a resignation letter drafted here, Caitlyn?

CAITLYN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Right. Well, a couple things to consider too about Gary Cohn. That he is a key character in this fight coming up on tax reform, tax changes. From policy perspective, this is something that he's been interested in and a key - you know his reason for being there. There are also, of course, reports that he would be happy to take a post as Fed chairman, for example.

So, different interests that Gary Cohn has in this administration. But it also could speak to the broader aspect of amidst calls for people to leave the White House in effort to stand-up to President Trump. Many feel compelled to stay to help right the ship.

BERMAN: You know it is interesting hearing those words from within. And Rebecca, there are also words from without today that are worthy of note inside "The Washington Post."

Former Missouri Senator John Danforth, sort of a scathing criticism, I mean, blistering criticism of the president. I want to read you some of what he said.

"He stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party - that of a united country." Danforth said. "We are the party of the union, and he is the most divisive president in our history. There hasn't been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace." He goes on to say, "Our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril."

You know, you have a widely respected -- in some cases, national Republican, ordained minister, by the way, calling the president of the United States a hateful man. Rebecca?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's an astounding op-ed to read from a Republican, former Republican lawmaker. And this is something that's been litigated since the Republican primary, this question of does Donald Trump truly represents Republican values and represents the Republican Party?

Now, the answer to that is simple. Now that he's president, he is the head of the Republican Party by default. But this raises two interesting questions, I think. The Republicans are going to need to navigate over the coming months. First, when you're looking ahead to the midterms. If President Trump is still as unpopular as he is now, if his approval rating is still as low as it is now, how are Republicans going to separate themselves from the president's reputation as they're running for re-election. That's number one.

[10:20:11] And number two, looking ahead to 2020. We are starting to hear Republicans ask this question, will they support the president for re-election. A lot of Republicans, not answering that question directly, which is very unusual for a sitting president. And so, you are going to hear that question asked a lot more. Republicans are going to have to think about this question, are they going to support the president? Are they going to potentially support a primary opponent?

BERMAN: All right. You know, just something interesting just crossed right now. We did note that President Trump has had a lot of things to say about a lot of people this morning. One thing he hasn't talked about this morning at least is the hurricane, Hurricane Harvey.

In this message from Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he wrote this morning, Donald Trump, keep on top of hurricane Harvey don't make the same mistake President Bush made with Katrina.

You know, that's a pretty interesting message this morning from Chuck Grassley. You know, I think playing some psychological games here perhaps, Errol, with the president of the United States. Saying, hey, you better focus on what's important here.

LOUIS: Well, yes. Perhaps a last ditch effort. A lot of these tweets that get the president into a lot of controversy seem to happen in the weekend. Maybe a last ditch effort to get him to not do that this weekend and to maybe focus on something that really does matter, which is the response to this storm.

BERMAN: And we should say that Melania Trump, the first lady of the United States has written about this this morning. She is a member of the administration and so far, she is involved with the administration talking about this. She had the first response, we should say, to Charlottesville as well. All of this criticism, you know, Caitlyn, one of the open questions is, will the president see it? Because now, the chief of staff is apparently, you know, censoring the media or at least the newspaper articles that the president gets to see, that according to "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman and also "Politico."

HUEY-BURNS: Sure. Well, they can try. But it depends on how effective they can really be. We know the president watches TV. He has said that publicly. We know that he is active on Twitter, so he sees these different things. So he is apt to respond.

The important thing about these criticisms that he's lunging against Republicans is the question of whether that will deter any from coming out against him. And we haven't seen, yet, a real sense of fear instilled in Republicans for criticizing the president. And to Rebecca's point, it will be really interesting to watch which Republicans feel like they need to endure themselves to Donald Trump. In Alabama, for example, there's a key Senate race where you want to be aligned with Donald Trump and others who are going to create distance and make it known that they are distancing themselves. So I don't think there's an exact Republican play book here heading into the midterms and how to deal with this with an unreliable partner in the White House.

BERMAN: Rebecca, are Republicans scared of the president?

BERG: I think clearly not. As Caitlyn mentioned, you know, you haven't seen Republicans backing off of their public criticism of the president. If anything, you've seen it ramping up from Republicans.

Interesting note, as we saw this controversy over Charlottesville unfold after the president's remarks last week, there were talking point that went out from the White House to Republicans, supposedly for their Republican allies. But you didn't see any Republicans speaking from those talking points. And instead, you saw Republicans openly criticizing the president. That's a very important point because if Republicans and the president aren't singing from the same songbook, it shows that there's a fundamental divide in the party and that's going to be a problem for the president moving forward as well.

BERMAN: You know, it's a good point. White House allies but no elected Republicans using those talking points which were widely circulated right after that.

Rebecca Berg, Caitlyn Huey-Burns, Errol Louis, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

Hurricane Harvey getting very close now to the Texas Coast. The chief of the Texas Emergency Management is with us for an update on how they are preparing, next.


[10:28:20] BERMAN: Texas is bracing for a potentially devastating hurricane. Harvey is right on the verge of becoming a Category 3 storm. That would be a major hurricane. FEMA is warning the flooding could cause a very significant disaster. CNN's Ed Lavandera tracking the storm for us in Galveston. Ed, what does it look like now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, the storm here is starting to pick up. The signs of all that here, you point out here to the Gulf of Mexico. This is looking back toward Corpus Christi there. So, this hurricane turning out there in the Gulf of Mexico, right out in this direction and you can see how the surf has picked up here dramatically. We were woken up this morning at about 5:00 a.m. this morning with a gigantic clap of thunder and lightning strike, so that really kind of set off the tone for the day.

Here in this part of the island in Galveston, you see the seawall here. This would do a good job in protecting about half of the island. The more western side of the island doesn't have a seawall like this, more residential. That part of the island has been issued a voluntary evacuation order. This is an island used to exactly this kind of storm back in 2008 hurricane Ike struck this island causing dramatic and devastating destruction as well. So many people here know exactly what a storm like this is capable of.

But as you look here on the Waterfront Road, you see busy traffic. We haven't seen a lot of signs of people boarding up windows, John, and preparing for the worst and the wind damage coming from this storm. We are probably going to be on the eastern edge of this hurricane as it makes land fall, but many people out on the streets this morning taking those last moments to load up on supplies. Flooding, especially in this area of southeast Texas major concerns about flooding and what this heavy rainfall will do over the next coming days. John?