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Conclusion of White House Briefing; Cat 2 Hurricane Bearing Down on Texas; Source: Cohen Almost Resigned over Trump's Charlottesville Comments. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 14:30   ET


TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: And one of the things I hope to do is -- is have full faith and trust, and I do, in this case, in the responders at the state and local level, --


-- and at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate and bring to bear the full resources of the cabinet to keep this regional event focused on the life-saving, life-sustaining efforts and to make sure Americans in harm's way are protected.

Second concern you have, though, is making sure that regional event doesn't lose containment and become a national or international event. And so, as the refining capacity, as I understand it -- approximately 50 percent of the Gulf Coast refining capacity and a third of the U.S. capacity in the storm's path. That's something we have to take very seriously.

There have been reports on that, speculating on potential gas price increases and so forth. I'm not in a -- in a position to confirm those increases, but I will tell you that the last report I received was that the appropriate steps are being taken by the private sector to take their refineries into a position where they are ready to -- to withstand some wind and some flooding.

You still (ph) have to wait it out, let mother nature play its course and see what kind of damage is on the other side. But the hope is they'll be able to fix those damages, repair them quickly and be right back in business. And so, while a large proportion is affected, it might not cause a large and long-term disruption.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. So, in that situation, the FEMA response was incredibly slow. By comparison, how quickly are you prepared to move into Texas?

BOSSERT: Yeah. We've made leaps and bounds since 1992 in our federal planning, in our state and local planning and as an emergency management community as a whole.

We had a federal response plan that failed. We updated that federal response plan after 1992. Then we had a 9/11 event that caused us to create a national response plan. We tested it in Katrina, and found deficiencies and created a national response framework.

BOSSERT: A great deal of effort went into changing those names of those documents, and a great deal of effort went into training the people to execute those changes. And so I've got a tremendous amount of experience here and a tremendous amount of confidence in the people at FEMA and the people at the state and local levels in these emergency management operations centers. And I actually have a lot of confidence in the American people that they're gonna do what they need to do in this case.

QUESTION: Can you give us a time table, how quickly can you move into the area then?

BOSSERT: Well it's not about how quickly we can move into the area. The federal government's already prepositioned all sorts of resources in the area. So what we do is we begin helping people from before a storm landfall.

We're already helping people in a way, depending on how you assess and define that. So we're already providing resources. In fact, I mentioned as an example, the Army Corps is providing extra generation capacity. That's gonna help a lot of people if those pumps stay running.

So, we're -- we're already leaning forward, and the authorities that were given to us by Congress after Katrina have allowed us to do that in a more full-throated way. Sir?

QUESTION: You mentioned in your opening statement that now is not the time for -- to lose faith in your government institutions. It sort of struck me as a very interesting line coming from someone behind the White House podium.

Can you talk a little, extend on that a little bit, is there a fear that you have, that the Administration has, that under the political climate or rhetoric that's being used -- either in this town or more broadly -- could have a real impact on lives?

And in this case, could people maybe not listen to the government, they had lost faith in their government as you warned?

BOSSERT: No, not at all. I'm telling you from my personal experience it's important in every emergency -- and I've been through a lot of them, to remind people to listen to their state and local officials. Because inevitably people don't, and then they end up thinking they wish they had, right? So you have nothing to lose but your life. And I want you to take it seriously, and I want you to listen to those state and local officials. In fact, I'm not worried about you losing faith in the federal government.

I'm worried about you losing faith in the state and local government, that provides you best information that they have. And so don't worry about parsing, whether they're right or wrong. If they're asking you to evacuate and telling you to do it now, listen to their advice.

Oftentimes, people try to supplant their own judgment for theirs. And what they don't understand is the number of time man hours that go into planning those evacuation routes. You have to coordinate them with other counties farther north, and you have to do road closures and reverse the traffic flow.

And there are things that people just might not be aware of, so have a little faith in the professionalism of your emergency managers, listen to their advice, and you'll be better off for it.

And lastly, I would say if you do, and you're out of harm's way, you don't put a responders life in jeopardy later, and you allow us to recover more quickly, which is really the goal. Go ahead.

QUESTION: ... (inaudible) some controversy in Texas, mainly in Corpus Christi, about mandatory evacuations. Can you add what FEMA's experience is, particularly related to the length of flooding that might follow the storm?

About the federal government's perspective on whether local officials should or should not declare mandatory evacuations?

BOSSERT: No, I'm gonna leave that judgment to the state and local officials that make those determinations. A lot's said about mandatory versus not mandatory, and that's one of the responsibilities that I have here, to enforce both of those decisions. And to reinforce them with rhetoric.

I think the idea here is we have faith in their judgment. People affected by those local government officials should as well. Mandatory or not, if you're asked to leave, I think it's a good idea to make those preparations and take those steps.

QUESTION: Related question on that. There's been some concern that patrol checkpoints for the Border Patrol north of the border in Texas are being maintained, and that could dissuade some people from getting to shelter. Are you addressing that?

BOSSERT: So let me understand your question, you -- there are people that can't get across the border for life-saving purposes?

QUESTION: No, not across the border. North of the border, there are immigration inspection checkpoints, and supposedly those are being maintained as well as the fears that there could be checks at shelters. So that would dissuade people from evacuating. BOSSERT: And I haven't -- I haven't heard that, but people shouldn't be fearful of going to a shelter and receiving food and water, that's not a problem.

QUESTION: You described your experience and prolonged (ph) experience, but this is the first time President Trump will be in charge for a national disaster -- a natural disaster of this scale. What do you think he has to project in terms of leadership or a skill set for the country to feel that he has led well in this situation?

BOSSERT: This is right up President Trump's alley. Not only has he shown leadership here, but his entire focus has been on making America great again. He is focused on the Americans that voted him into office, he's focused on the Americans that didn't vote him into office. He's focused on effecting positive change in this country. And when we go in and brief him on the preparations for this hurricane, he is acutely focused on making sure that - just the right thing, by the way, that the American people in the storm's path have what they need.

His questions weren't about geopolitical issues or about large political consequences. His questions were about, are you doing what it takes to help the people that are going to be affected by this storm? You might not, if you're living in the Northeast, think about this storm over the weekend. You might go about your business. But the president's worried about the 4.6 million people or so that are in that area of Texas that are going to be affected by this.

Because to them, this is the - this is the most important thing they're going to have to worry about for the next 24, 48, 72 or more hours. So from my perspective, I was extremely happy with his leadership instincts on this. And I think that that will carry through as you see him respond to this event. Sir?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Disaster declaration before landfall. Is that something the president will do? And does it really make much of a difference in the response one way or the other?

BOSSERT: It can make a little bit of a difference here and it makes every bit of a difference to the spirit and mentality of the people that have to employ those resources. So to the extent that it meets the criteria, I would advise him to consider it very favorably. And to the extent that any ambiguity be cleared up at the implementation level, that people know that they have the ability to employ resources with FEMA to start mission assigning and providing money to the other departments and agencies to do what they have to do. It's a good idea. And there's precedent for it.

STAFF: We'll take one last one (ph). QUESTION: Was there any discussion with the president about him coming out and addressing the nation, given the magnitude - potential magnitude of this storm? Should people be hearing from their commander in chief about the preparations the government is taking and just hear it from - from his mouth that he believes that you should be listening to state and local officials and offer assurances in a time like this?

BOSSERT: Yeah, I think at the time when it's appropriate, the president will come out and address this. I think right now what's more appropriate is that the faces and voices of this event be the two governors of the affected states. Remember, no matter what we do, no matter how forward-leaning we are, all the federal family is here to support the two governors in this event and any governor in this event.

And they're there to support the local officials. So this is kind of an enshrined principle of federalism. If and then this becomes of the magnitude and severity that it overwhelms the state and affected local officials and the president declares such and issues a declaration that this is a major disaster, provides all the federal assistance, then it might be a good opportunity for him to come out and speak to you on it.

But for right now, let's hope and pray that people follow the advice of their officials, that they do what they have to do to stay out of harm's way, that there's no loss of life in this event. Let's say a little prayer for those that are affected over the weekend. Know that here in the White House, over across the street at DHS and FEMA, and all the way down to the lowest level - local level in Louisiana and Texas that people are doing the right thing.

You'll hear from the president later, I'm sure, if it merits. Let's hope this event fizzles and that the forecasts are all wrong but I don't think that that's the right thing to hope for right now. We're executing and we're going to do what it takes to save people's lives and to make their lives easier as they sustain damage. So I really appreciate your time today. Thank you very much and we'll keep you informed, OK? Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you, Tom. Due to the president's departure coming up here shortly, I'm going to take a few questions. We're a little tight on time today. I'll skip any opening comments, but just so you're aware, the press staff will be around the rest of the day and throughout the weekend providing updates both on the storm and any other issues that we certainly don't get a chance to cover today.

Also, just received an update a few minutes ago that it looks like the president will try to make plans to go to Texas early next week and we'll keep you posted on details about those as they're firmed up, and certainly on any other plans and schedule changes throughout the weekend. Jonathan (ph)?

QUESTION: Hi, Sarah. Sarah -- want to (ph) -- Sarah, can you -- because the president's talking to Gary Cohn about his comments. He said that the administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning hate groups.

SANDERS: The president's in regular contact with Gary. I'm not going to get into deliberation on specific conversations they may have had, but the president's been very outspoken in his condemnation of racism, of bigotry, of hate of all forms.

But I think, as long as those things exist, there's always more that we can do, and that we should be looking for, and we will be looking for, ways that we can do more as an administration. Until there's zero of those things, then there's always more that you can do.

And I think that doesn't just happen within the administration, but I think that happens with the American people. I think that the president has called on America to come together, to unite, certainly, throughout his comments over the course of the last week.

And I think that's something that we should all step up and be willing to do -- is come together and look for ways that we can get rid of racism, bigotry, and hate in all forms.

John (ph).

QUESTION: But, Sarah, what did the president mean?

SANDERS: Sorry -- we're really tight on time. so I'm going to...

QUESTION: What -- what did the president mean when he said there were very fine people... SANDERS: ... try to get to several of your colleagues (ph).

QUESTION: ... on -- on both sides? Who were the very fine people...

SANDERS: Jonathan (ph).

QUESTION: ... that were protesting with the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville?

SANDERS: Go ahead, John. Sorry.

QUESTION: Who were the very fine people?

SANDERS: Jon (ph), we're super tight on time, so I'm going to try to cover as many of your colleagues as possible.


QUESTION: ... question. That's why that -- Gary Cohn was upset.

SANDERS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering, was the president aware of the content of Gary Cohn's interview before it was published?

SANDERS: Look, I think everybody wants to focus on a really small part of that interview; 95 percent of the interview was on tax reform, and we're looking at a very small portion of it.

The president, as I said, and Gary have spoken many times. Gary has not held back..


SANDERS: ... what his feelings are, if you'll let me finish. Gary has not held back how he feels about this situation. He's been very open and honest. And so I don't think that anyone was surprised by the comments.

Jen (ph).

QUESTION: Two quick tax questions: For the Missouri trip next week, do you expect the president will reveal any new details about what he'd like to see in this tax reform overhaul?

SANDERS: If he is, I certainly wouldn't announce that today. I'll let the president do that while he's in Missouri next week. I know he's looking forward to really focusing on tax relief for middle- class Americans as we move into the fall.

That's going to be a very big priority for this administration and something I think and -- that everyone can expect to hear a lot more about over the coming weeks.

QUESTION: And (ph) on the corporate tax rate... SANDERS: Sorry. We're -- I've just got to keep moving, because we're really tight today.


QUESTION: Sarah, the president mentioned, two weeks ago, possible military action in Venezuela, but H.R. McMaster just said that there's nothing in the near future. Does the president now feel that way? Or is he still pushing towards possible military action?

SANDERS: I think we've been clear that the focus is, first, to use things like sanctions. That's the first line. That's where we're focused on right now, and hopefully that will have the impact that we're looking for.

Again, we -- as General McMaster said, we leave all options on the table, and we're not taking any of those things off. But nothing in the immediate, and we're going to focus on these sanctions at this point.

QUESTION: Sarah, why doesn't (ph) the president condemn other dictators?

SANDERS: Kristin (ph)? Kristin (ph), sorry.

QUESTION: Sarah...

SANDERS: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Can you -- I want to ask you about DACA. Has the president made a decision about whether to end or phase out DACA? And is that imminent?

SANDERS: The administration has indicated several times before that the DACA program is under review. It continues to be under review. When (ph) we have an announcement on it, we'll let you guys know.

QUESTION: Is a decision imminent, Sarah, in the (ph) coming days?

SANDERS: Again, once we have an announcement on that, we'll let you know.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

A number of charities and other groups have canceled events scheduled at Mar-A-Lago in the wake of the president's Charlottesville comments. Does that, coupled with these Mr. Cohn comments that we've discussed, the disbandment of the business council -- does -- does that make them rethink and reconsider, at all, his remarks and his reaction in the wake of Charlottesville? SANDERS: I can't speak to the -- anything regarding The Trump

Organization, but I can tell you that, again -- and I'll echo the president's comments, his words and his feelings on this situation, is that he condemns this in the strongest form possible.

We will continue to do that and continue to look for ways to bring America together. That's the focus of this administration currently and will continue to be as we move forward.

John Decker (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank, Sarah.

The president today took to Twitter to criticize Senator Bob Corker. And in just the past month, he's criticized a number of -- of Republican senators. He's criticized Leader McConnell on Twitter, Senator John McCain, Senator Flake, Senator Graham of South Carolina, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

What is the end game for the president? What does that do for him in terms of trying to him in terms of trying to move his legislative agenda forward? When he criticizes these important people, given the majorities are so slim in the Senate, that are necessary to move his legislative agenda forward.

SANDERS: I think it's clear that the end game is for Congress to do its job and actually pass legislation.

I think the American people are very frustrated with Congress' lack of action. And for years, they've been all talk and no action, and we're looking for them to set up at this point.

Sorry guys to cut it short today. We'll be around -- we'll be around for the rest of this afternoon to answer your questions. But as you know, the president is departing here in a few minutes.

Thanks so much, guys.

[14:45:13] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Several headlines in that briefing, including White House reaction to one of the president's top advisors who considered resigning after Charlottesville. We'll get into that momentarily.

First let's get to the story here. Breaking news of a category 2 hurricane gaining strength with every passing hour. Harvey is expected to make landfall overnight. When it hits it is projected to be the most devastating to hit in 12 years. The full range and scope captured from the international space station.

We have a team of reporters across the impact zone. CNN's Ed Lavandera in Galveston, Texas, for us. Nick Valencia in Corpus Christi.

Let's begin with weather.

CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater. We have been handed the latest update and the several varieties of this storm.

Tom, what's the update?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The pressure has not dropped however a couple of hours ago the pressure did. It takes a while for winds the pick-up in speed to gather speed. If you look at the imagery the bright colors of red and purple are the higher cloud tops. The eye right now is about 90 miles from the coast. Look at that. Let's not forget about this. That satellite showing us the thunderstorm activity to the north. It is typical when you get landfall like this. If you track this it is nine hours from now. We were thinking maybe it would stall and it still could. Be prepared. 10:00 or 11:00 local time. The system still moves in. The national hurricane system brings it in as a category 3. And then if you continue it out brings it back offshore and then up towards Galveston. Computer models have been a mess. I haven't seen anything quite like this. It because measly weak Tropical Storm Allison. Over 35 inches of rain around the Houston area. And $9 billion in economic losses and 41 fatalities. That was a weak tropical storm. Can you imagine getting half of your yearly rainfall and drop it on you in a couple of days? That's what we are looking at.

BALDWIN: Tom, thank you. We'll come back to you.

Ed Lavandera in Galveston, Texas.

It's picking up, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. This is the second band of Hurricane Harvey we have seen. Some of the strongest sustained winds we have seen throughout the day and obviously you can see the rainfall coming down intensely. This is the second of the strongest bands. It begins to make landfall along the gulf coast. This is sea wall boulevard. You can see the amount of traffic out on the road. Many people here not evacuating and just kind of taking precautions here on the island throughout that storm. As you look back here over my shoulder looking in this direction that's south towards Corpus Christi. The brunt of the hurricane is expected to come in. We have been speaking with emergency management officials we are told for the most part people are heeding the warnings but they worry there are a number of people who decided to kind of ride these storms out. As we have talked about before and can't we expect here is the amount of rainfall that will continue to fall. But after it makes landfall, stalls out and this is afternoon area that's used to a number of storms they have seen in the last 10 years that might seem minor that creates flooding. This is the type of storm that's much larger, dumping much more rain. These are areas in Texas prone to flooding already in the most minimal of storms and you take a monster storm like this and it compounds to severity that this kind of storm can bring. The first bands of Hurricane Harvey making their way to shore today -- Brooke?

[14:51:12] BALDWIN: Go jump inside, Ed, and get dry. Stay safe to you and the crew. Ed Lavandera is there in Galveston. A lot of people are heeding the

warnings and evacuating.

Nick Valencia is also on the coast.

And a much different picture where you are so far. What are conditions right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, the severity has ebbed and flowed as the bands work their way through core put Christie.

Corpus Christi will get the brunt of the storm. We've been talking about the preparations.

We are joined by one of the local representatives, Congressman Farenthold.

Where do things stand right now?

REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD, (R), TEXAS: Most of the people that are going to go have gone. The buses taking folks to San Antonio, that's all done. There is still time to take your private car and move up towards San Antonio. We are in for several solely days of rain and probably weeks without electricity for a lot of folks.

VALENCIA: They say there's no sue perlative it will be that dangerous. What do you tell people who decided to stick this out?

FARENTHOLD: You have to take care of yourself and be safe. It's too late to board up the windows. The wind is blowing a probably solid 30, 40 miles per hour.

VALENCIA: We have been reporting live. Is there any area that really concerns you the most?

FARENTHOLD: I represent all up and down the coast. The barrier islands are the biggest worry. Low lying areas will be a problem. My family had a House in Port Aransas. When we came back to look at the House there was no house. You don't know what -- it's unprecedented that a storm comes ashore and forecast to stall. That's hours upon hours of potentially 100 plus miles per hour winds. Even the best built building it will be tough on.

VALENCIA: We'll be stuck in this for days. Hope people have food and water.

Congressman, thank you very much.

Brooke, this storm is projected to be especially severe.

BALDWIN: To your point, heed the warnings.

Thank the Congressman for us.

Appreciate you there in Corpus Christi. Let's get now to the fallout from the president's remarks on the

racist and deadly violence. The news today is that the National Economic Council director who was condemned for standing right by the president there last week at Trump Tower, virtually standing silent, was on the brink of resigning because of them. This is what we learned. He is revealing how upset he was in this interview with the financial times which was supposed to be all about tax reform. This is the part that caught everyone's eye. He told them, "I am reluctant to leave my post because I feel a duty to fulfill my duty to work on behalf of the American people, but I also feel compelled over the events of the last two weeks. This administration can and must do better condemning these groups and do everything we can to heel the diversions that exist in our communities."

We have experts standing by, including CNN senior economic analyst, Stephen Moore, who served as an adviser to the Trump campaign. Austan Goolsbee, served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisor under President Obama.

So welcome to both of you.

Stephen Moore, you know, the public rebuke, how much of a blow do you think this was for President Trump, this near resignation?

[14:55:56] STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: I think the good news is that he is going stay on the job. Let's face it, the one thing Donald Trump has to get done is he has to get this tax cut passed. He is front and center on that. Certainly, he has the right to say it. It is appropriate Donald Trump keep him onto finish the economic agenda because he is very valuable. He is one of the gang of six that's putting this together.

BALDWIN: Right. I understand you only met Gary once. How much knowing President Trump, how much do you think, if there was any work or arm twisting to get him to stay on?

MOORE: Well, look, I think Donald Trump understands how valuable Gary is, as well as Steve. Those are the two main, you know, figures in the White House getting this tax cut done. This would be a terrible time for either of them to leave. By the way, one quick point I have got to say is that a lot of the push to get him out came from a lot of these alumni and professors.

BALDWIN: That was actually Mnuchin.


MOORE: Sorry, with respect to -- and Yale is probably one of the most closed minded in the country.


It's a little rich that Yale is saying you should be more open minded when they are one of the most closed-minded universities in the nation.

BALDWIN: I can't speak for Yale but I'm sure they would take issue with that.

Austan, OK. I don't know if you went to Yale.



BALDWIN: Really what I want to know, your two cents on this news.

GOOLSBEE: The president has shown when he is not offended he has remarkable flexibility in reopening up the tent to let people back in. You remember he called Ben Carson and said he was pathological like a child molester. He had no problem turning around to put him in the cabinet. I don't think just that will make the president so upset that he would want to fire Gary. I think Steve is right. He feels like he really wants to do some economic policy and that cone might be the guy he has to do that with. I do think the president has shown a remarkably thin skin since he has been in office. We were kind of told he was going to act more presidential and he wouldn't have that hold a grudge-type mentality. Steve Bannon is out of there. We have all heard the rumors they will start doing so. I think they could inflame the president against Gary in a way that would be really damaging for the administration.

MOORE: I'm hearing he has been one of the leading choice as the Federal Reserve chairman.


MOORE: I think it could very easily be -- and he wants that job he might have realized I'm losing the chance of getting one of the most powerful when it comes to the committee.

BALDWIN: Eyes on the prize.

Go ahead, Austan, quickly.

GOOLSBEE: The question is, would it anger the president enough that he would say, oh, yes, well, I won't make you the fed chair because you criticized me. He has done --