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Hurricane Harvey Threatens Texas Coast; Resident of Corpus Christi, Texas, Urged to Evacuate Ahead of Hurricane; Interview with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA). Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Forecasters expect this storm to stall, to stay put over Texas for a matter of days, dumping two to three feet of rain, even more than that in some areas. Tens of thousands of residents who are in low lying areas are being people ordered to evacuate. President Trump is facing the first natural disaster of his presidency and all the tests that come along with that. So let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Nick Valencia with us again from Corpus Christi, Texas, where he has been all morning. Nick, what do you see?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: David, hour by hour we've been standing out here at the bay of the -- bank of the bay here. And it's just getting worse and worth every minute. This water slowly starting to come up these steps. What we understand from local officials is they are preparing for a storm the likes of which we may have never seen before.

Evacuations have been well underway here in Corpus Christi over the course of the last 48 hours. The local mayor here ordering voluntary evacuations. But a lot of people here, they didn't wait for the mayor to say something. They got out of town ahead of time. They're used to this type of weather. They've seen it before. Back in 2008 with Hurricane Ike, 18 years before that there was a major storm. Forty years ago there was another major storm here that really hit Corpus Christi very hard.

So people did not want to take any chances. Businesses are boarded up, schools are closed. And last flight into and out of Corpus Christi airport left earlier this morning at 6:30 local. Service has been shut down until over the weekend. Local officials here say that they have not officially designated any areas for shelter or relief because they're really encouraging everyone to get out of town. And we saw that exactly. What was happening yesterday when we were making our way here on the interstate, we were one of the only cars driving towards coastal Texas. Many other people, most people were driving north towards more secure areas, areas like San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, anywhere here but coastal Texas. This storm is expected to be a big one. Alisyn and David?

GREGORY: Nick, you were talking about driving toward the storm which most people don't do. At the same time, there may be people who think, well, this may be just a huge rain event. Are they taking it seriously enough and heeding orders to evacuate? VALENCIA: I talked to the local police earlier today and I asked

them, what advice do you have for those people that maybe decided to wait out the storm or ride out the storm? He said if plans have not been put in place already, it may be too late. This hurricane -- hurricanes in general are incredibly unpredictable and it could progress and deteriorate so fast. This latest advisory we're hearing from the National Hurricane Center is that these winds are sustained at about 110 miles per hour, and here, all morning, that has been the story. The winds have started to pick up and just as I say that, the rain is starting to pick up. Of course we expect these conditions only to get worse as the hours progress.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The winds are now at 110. That was your latest report. That's still a category two. A category three hurricane is 111. So you're one mile per hour away from that. So please be safe. Nick, we of court will check back with you throughout the hour.

Meanwhile we want to show you this, the outer bands of hurricane Harvey are now hitting the Texas coast as you can see there from Nick's live shot. One of the storm's deadliest threats is the extreme flooding that could hit cities like Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. So residents do need to heed all the evacuation orders.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in San Antonio. That city is already under a local disaster declaration. What's happening at this hour.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, you hear people talk about the calm before the storm. And this is exactly it, the heart of the city of San Antonio. That's because those conditions are expected to change later today possibly into tonight as some of those outer bands that you just showed our viewers begin to make their way here to south and central Texas. Yes, the winds will be an issue, but really the main concern will be flooding, catastrophic flooding. This storm is expected to, according to meteorologist, really just wander around parts of Texas, which means like Houston, Austin, here, in San Antonio, they are bracing for some pretty devastating flooding that they have seen before during other storms.

As a result officials are recommending that people simply prepare to hunker down starting tonight because these kinds of ideal conditions that we're able to see right now are certainly not going to be the case later tonight. So this is really what we're seeing right now, David, in some of these cities, mainly inland cities, as we prepare now for this storm to make landfall, Alisyn. And then as we prepare to see begin to see some of the effects of hurricane Harvey in cities like San Antonio.

GREGORY: We'll pay so much attention to what's going to happen as it comes ashore. But as it really stalls where inland cities can get so much rain and where the flooding can occur, cities like Houston --

CAMEROTA: I mean, something like 30 inches they're talking about, just a shocking amount.

GREGORY: We want to look at this ominous video now. This is the International Space Station that's capturing images of the size and scope of hurricane Harvey as it moves towards Texas. You can see how huge this storm is from space obviously. We want to get an update on the storm's track now. We're joined by chief hurricane specialist from the National Hurricane Center Michael Brennan back with us this hour. Michael, what are you seeing at this point as it's on the cusp of becoming a cat three?

[08:05:15] MICHAEL BRENNAN, CHIEF HURRICANE SPECIALIST NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, we're very close to major hurricane strength. We're just a few miles per hour away. At this point we really want people to focus on the hazards, the life threatening major hurricane force winds that we're expecting to reach the coast tonight, the left threatening storm surge that's going to affect a large part of the coast of Texas. And as you just mentioned the exceptional rainfall amounts we're expecting all the way into the middle portions of next week that are going to affect much of southeastern Texas and on into western Louisiana where we can see isolated areas seeing as much as three feet of rain. So those are three real life-threatening hazards that we're expecting with this hurricane.

CAMEROTA: Michael, obviously you do this for a living, you monitor these things all the time. Put this in context. What is Harvey like versus other hurricanes?

BRENNAN: Every hurricane is different. Every hurricane has its own sort of combination of hazards. This is a really dangerous situation, though, because we're expecting not just the winds and storm surge but the heavy rain, too. And the heavy rain is going to affect people well inland from the coast. People tend to think of hurricanes as only a coastal threat, you don't have to worry about it if you're not living on the beach or you don't have property down there.

But this is going to affect hundreds of thousands, millions of people with these hazards over the next few days. And the thing to emphasize now is you really only have a few hours left to get ready. We're already seeing these outer rain bands begin to reach the Texas coast. And so the tropical storm force winds are going to be moving on shore by late this morning, early this afternoon. And at that time everybody who wants to be out if they've been ordered to evacuate or asked to evacuate they really need to heed that request in the next few hours.

GREGORY: I want to follow up on that because they're running out of time for people who want to ride it out or may not take it as seriously. This is the job of the media at this point working with local officials to impress upon folks that you must heed the warnings.

BRENNAN: Right, especially if you live in this area where we're talking about the storm surge warning covers this dark pink area. For most of the Texas coast where along the coast, this area is from south of Corpus Christie to just west of Houston, we can see storm surge flooding six to 12 feet. I'm six feet tall. You could have six feet of water on your street or in your house or even water that's twice that high. That's life threatening storm surge. If you're saying in that area, you're putting your life at risk if you've been asked to evacuate. CAMEROTA: That is very illustrative of how dangerous this could be.

So you're worried about the storm surge, and then of course the winds are not to be taken lightly either. So am I right that we're one miles per hour away from this becoming a category three storm?

BRENNAN: Right. People tend to focus on the category of the hurricane because it's something easy to focus on and latch onto. But at this point the hazards are already there. The winds, there's very little difference between a hurricane with 110 and 115 miles per hour sustained winds. Those are winds that can cause substantial structural damage and are certainly life threatening to be out in and can cause severe damage to people. So again, that's another hazard that's going to be right in this eye wall of the hurricane that you see here on the radar. Those are where those really strong winds are. But the tropical storm force winds extend out well in advance of the storm. So those sustained winds starting at 40 miles per hour and up are going to start reaching the coast later today.

CAMEROTA: We can see that on your illustration there that they are almost kissing the coast now. Michael, thank you very much. We'll check back with you.

Joining us now on the phone is the Corpus Christi Fire Chief Robert Rocha. Chief, thank you for being with us. I know it's a busy morning there.

ROBERT ROCHA, CORPUS CHRISTI FIRE CHIEF: Thank you very much, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: What are you doing at this hour?

ROCHA: Let me just stay thank you for interviewing us here in Corpus Christi. We are indeed on the front line of this storm. We currently have our emergency operations center open and we're doing a lot of coordination with our city assets, with our county assets, and of course with our Texas department of emergency management assets. We already have a lot of rescue people prepositioned, boat teams, rescue teams, Corpus Christi police department, Corpus Christi fire department ready to respond to emergencies when we're able to.

CAMEROTA: And is that because you think that people have not heeded the warnings to get out?

ROCHA: I believe that people have heeded the warning, especially in those low-lying areas which the mayor spoke about yesterday, about getting people to evacuate out of North Padre Island, Mustang Island, North Beach, Flower Bluff, and various different locations within the city of Corpus Christi where we previously have experience high waters.

CAMEROTA: But I mean then what are your go teams and your evacuation teams, what scenarios are they preparing for?

ROCHA: What we're doing is we're still doing partial evacuation of the city. We're allowing people to evacuate until about 12:00 noon.

[08:10:00] And then at that time we're going to make an evaluation as to the weather conditions. Storm surge is obviously something we're concerned about but the hurricane force winds is something else that we're very, very concerned about. At some point in time we're going to ask people that did not evacuate to shelter in place, stay in their homes, don't go out, don't drive in high water. There's going to be a point in time where police departments, fire departments, and emergency rescue people are not going to be able to respond until the storm passes.

CAMEROTA: But chief, is there a mandatory evacuation right now?

ROCHA: In some areas, there is a mandatory evacuation.

CAMEROTA: Why not everywhere?

ROCHA: Well, there's a lot of different legal ramifications with regard to a mandatory evacuation. There has to be different items in place. Plus getting people back in becomes cumbersome. It was the decision made by our group to highly recommend that people in low- lying areas evacuate.

GREGORY: Chief, it's David here. One of the issues I would think for sheltering in place, you want as many people to evacuate as possible so your first responders have ample room to reach people who have sheltered in place should that become necessary.

ROCHA: That's correct. We want people to get out of town, people who are especially in these low-lying areas, we want them to self- evacuate. We also have assistance. We have evacuation teams within the city of Corpus Christi where we are sending people from Corpus Christi to San Antonio to the shelters up there. We want to make it easy for first responders to be able to move through the streets and be able to rescue people that are in need of rescuing.

CAMEROTA: All right, well, Chief Rocha, we are happy to help you get the word out to your folks there this morning because the consequences could not be more dire. So thank you for taking the time to be on here and we hope that people are listening very closely to your warnings.

GREGORY: We're going to take a break here. Thank you, chief. We'll switch gears and talk about politics. The border wall leading to a shutdown showdown, the president vowing to let the federal government shut down over his propose the border wall if Republicans in Congress don't fund it. We're going to talk about it with a member of the House Freedom Caucus coming up next.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:16:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it, but believe me, we have to close down our government. We're building that wall.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He campaigned on the wall. He won on talking about building the wall, and he's going to make sure that that gets done, and he'll continue to fight for that funding and ensure that it takes place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: All right. That was White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders standing by the president's threat to shut down the government if Congress does not fund his border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But will a Republican-controlled Congress really do that?

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia. He's a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. MORGAN GRIFFITH (R), VIRGINIA: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Are we really possibly going to see a possible government shutdown over this?

GRIFFITH: Well, I certainly hope not, but the bottom line is this is what Congress does. It fights over issues and it tries to determine what's important.

As you know, securing our southern border is important to the people of the United States of America. It is one of the major issues the president ran on. Many of us in Congress and United States Senate ran on that issue and were elected on that issue.

And so, we've got to see it through. Ultimately, I believe that it will be built and hopefully we'll get it done. But we've got to start to process by appropriating money for it.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: And who's going to pay for that wall?

GRIFFITH: Well, I will say to you that initially, we're going to have to prime the pump. But I believe that our friends in Mexico and the Mexican government want to be partners with the United States on a lot of issues, and one the things we have to be partners on is securing our borders. And I believe, although politically, they may need to do it indirectly, I believe that we will see significant contributions from our friends in the Mexican government.

CAMEROTA: And what would that indirect payment look like? Because as you remember, the president of Mexico, you know, we have these transcripts of the call that he had with President Trump, and just to remind everybody, the president of the Mexico, Pena Nieto, said: My position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall. President Trump says but you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.

So, it sounds like he's unequivocal that he's not going to pay for it.

GRIFFITH: Well, I think he's probably unequivocal on a public standpoint. Look, sometimes that happens. CAMEROTA: This was private.

GRIFFITH: But I also recognize they want to continue to have trade with these United States and to bring their products north. And that's part of the negotiation between nation states and we're going to work that out.

But I do believe that they will ultimately have to be a partner in making sure that our borders are secure.

CAMEROTA: But you're comfortable with Congress paying for it first and then keeping your fingers crossed that Mexico will pay the tab later?

GRIFFITH: Well, I don't have any question that Mexico will pay at least a part of the tab. It has to be a partnership. But I have no doubt of that and, yes, I am comfortable making sure because, look, we promised the American people, not just in this last campaign but we've promised the American people since the Reagan administration we would secure that border. We haven't done it. It's time for Congress to act.

CAMEROTA: How about the --

GRIFFITH: And I agree with president.

CAMEROTA: OK, how about the debt ceiling? The White House now sounds as though it wants the debt ceiling to be raised, it wants to work with Congress on that. In fact, the president sort of berated Congress for not tying the debt ceiling to the V.A. bill. But you all don't want the ceiling to be raised. So, o aren't you guys the impediment for tying it to any sort of other bill to get it through?

GRIFFITH: We certainly shouldn't be tied to a bill that has nothing to do with the debt ceiling. Now, if we're talking about debt and can have a debt ceiling, obviously, at some point, we're going to have to raise that debt ceiling. But if that's tied with reforms to make sure we debt the deficit under control, then we can see it raised but we're not going to do a clean -- at least I'm not going to support a clean debt ceiling increase because we have to get our debt and deficit problems at least on a pathway where we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Right now, we just keep piling it up.

[08:20:00] That's not the way the Republicans should govern. And when we do a debt ceiling increase, it should have significant reforms built into it to try to get that spending under control.

CAMEROTA: But then, Congressman, how do you make sense of President Trump's tweet yesterday where he said, I requested that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan tie the debt ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. bill, which just passed for easy approval. They didn't do it. So now we have a big problem with Dems holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy, now a mess.

But you didn't want them to tie it to the V.A. bill.

GRIFFITH: No. It's not proper. You know, it's one of the problems we have in Congress. We tie bills that have nothing to do with each other together in order to force people to vote for it and make a choice between protecting our children and grandchildren versus protecting our vets. That's not fair.

And I appreciate Paul Ryan not tying those two together, because we into need to have a discussion about the debt, the deficit and what we're going to do for our children, our grandchildren. Even now we're mortgaging our great grandchildren.

We need to have that conversation and need to come up with a solution so that we're doing the right thing for the American people long-term. Not just today or tomorrow. But long-term.

CAMEROTA: Sure. But -- so why do you think the president wants to tie those together?

GRIFFITH: Well, I think the president is trying to do some great things out there and trying to make sure we get things together I think he just wanted to get that off the table because it is going to be a little bit messy. But I didn't go to Congress just to take easy votes, and this is going to be one where we're going to have to negotiate and fight it out and get something that works long-term for the betterment of the American people and for our economy long term.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Morgan Griffith, thanks so much for being here on NEW DAY.

GRIFFITH: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: David?

GREGORY: Alisyn, let's bring in our political panel now, CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza, CNN political analysts Julie Hirschfield Davis, and April Ryan.

Good morning to all of you.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

GREGORY: So, Chris, let's get to the border wall in just a minute. But let's report on the president reacting to other reporting this morning at the same time there's a hurricane barreling down on Texas. That will be a test of his leadership in a natural disaster. This was reaction to political and "New York Times" reporting about the information flow within the White House, how John Kelly is trying to bring order.

And here's what the president tweeted: General John Kelly is doing a fantastic job as chief of staff. There is tremendous spirit and talent in the White House. Don't believe the fake news.

On the very morning we read in "The Financial Times" that Gary Cohn, his economics advisor, has talked about how unhappy he's been with the response to Charlottesville by the president and others in the administration. How do you react to this?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, he -- first of all, we revealed yet again how closely he monitors the news, right? I mean, he is aware of every story that comes out, that he views as negative about him. And he likes to push back on it.

He's also deeply invested and we know this before from his Twitter feed, deeply invested in the idea that everything is running smoothly, and that any attempt to say that it is not is, quote/unquote, fake news.

Now, the facts seem to belie the idea that everything is running smoothly. We -- Gary Cohn in "The Financial Times" this morning, top economic adviser for President Trump, expressing his dismay about Charlottesville. We have a second chief of staff. We've had four communications directors. The press secretary has left after the new communications director was brought in, who then left ten days later.

You know, there's been a massive amount of turnover. Obviously, I forgot Steve Bannon who was let go a week ago today. When there's as much turnover in the senior staff, you can't remember how much turnover the senior staff is, it's a lot. It's very clear Trump has set up a system in which these aides were with one another. He, I think, thinks there's creative tension that something good comes of it, but it creates a lot, a lot of tension there.

CAMEROTA: So, Julie, I mean, not only is there warring in h the White House, between different factions, but then there's also this intraparty war that the president has set up between, you know, himself and other leading Republicans. I mean, you heard me just talking to Congressman Griffith there about, you know, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell.

How is this going to play out? Who wins this one?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely. And this is -- this is a fight that is at this point, largely of the president's own making. He keeps on sort of proactively poking Mitch McConnell and to some degree, Paul Ryan, in the eye at precisely the moment he's going to need them the most to sort of corral Republicans for some really key votes. You were talking about the border wall and government funding. They have to raise the debt ceiling. Somewhere in there, President Trump has been talking about wanting to get this tax rut through.

All of those are huge, heavy lift that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are going to have to help him on not to mention other members of the Republican conference who Trump has also been attacking. And, you know, his repeated criticisms of them, his questioning of their tactics, whether it be to raise the debt ceiling or anything else is only going to make that process harder.

[08:25:09] And, you know, this relationship has always been somewhat of a tenuous one. Trump came in without having the strong support of many of these congressional leaders. They were a bit skeptical of him, but up until recently, the thought I think among Republicans on Capitol Hill was we cooperate to the president to the degree we need him to sign into law and help us push through long stalled priorities that we really want, on health care, on tax reform. And to the degree that's not happening, I think their patience is running very thin with that and things are colliding at a pretty bad time.

GREGORY: And tax reform is the most important of those. But, April, there is a tension here, right? I mean, there is the Trump brand and then there is the Republican brand. He has always kept that distinct unless they can work together.

You see him starting to blame Republicans for not following through in his agenda. I'm expecting him like Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" to say you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. But he is -- the wall is I think kind of a concept that he'll compromise on in the end. But it's something that he's saying, look, this is something I really did campaign on and there's a lot of people, including a lot of conservative Republicans who think this is a good idea in some form.

RYAN: Yes, you have some conservative Republicans who agree there needs to be efforts to help stem the illegal immigration problem. But at the same time when it comes to the southern border, but at the same time, you have fiscal conservatives who realizes this president is blowing the finance coffers out the water. I mean, just, he's breaking the barriers.

This wall, this wall is going to cost a lot of money. But also you have to remember, too, if the president really wants to sway their minds, this clash of the titans has to stop. He's not calling out Democrats like he used to. He's calling out leaders of his own party. Paul Ryan just said, David, you know, just recently, this week, but, you know, the president speaks differently than he does. The president is known and has been talked about how he is very brash and he uses very colorful words to say the least what he talks to these people and when he talks about them.

So, if he wants to make this wall happen, he needs to really worry about how he gets along -- I mean, this is just the basics. How do you get along with people and people in his own party who can push this on?

GREGORY: Well, and he's going to torch anybody in his own party who takes him on, Chris Cillizza --

RYAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: As evidenced by the tweet through the Twitter machine. There's a new tweet out this moment from the president about Bob Corker. Strange statement.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza is audibly sighing.

Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee -- not happy.

CILLIZA: I mean -- OK. Bob Corker was someone who Donald Trump considered for vice president. Bob Corker was someone --

GREGORY: And secretary of state.

CILLIZZA: I was going to say, secretary of state. What he's doing here -- let's assume this tweet is accurate. What he's doing is taking a private conversation with a -- the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a well-regarded senator who is no Trump hater, and airing it to 36 million Twitter followers.

What April just said, it's about human relationships. You have to learn to get along with people. This is literally the opposite of that. It's as if I -- you know, you tell me something in confidence and I then say, no problem I'll keep it to myself and go on television and tell everyone.

I mean, again, the problem is there's no strategy. This is cutting off your nose to spite your facism run rampant. Attacking Jeff Flake in Arizona when the fact is he's the best chance of the parties holding a competitive seat that they could lose in 2018. It's just -- he's just --

GREGORY: Yes. Well -- we're going to leave it there.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Yes, Chris Cillizza, we hear your agita, as they say.

Panel, thank you all very much. Great to have you here.

All right. Back to our top story. All the breaking news: Hurricane Harvey taking aim at Texas and time is running out to evacuate. How ready is the Lone Star State? We have a live report for you next.

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