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Texas Braces For Life-Threatening Winds, Floods; Storm Strengthens, Churns Toward Texas Coast; FEMA Delivers Relief Supplies To Path Of Storm; Trump Slams GOP Senator Who Questioned "Stability"; WSJ: GOP Congress Should Work Independent Of Trump. Aired 11a-12n ET

Aired August 26, 2017 - 11:00   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Clarissa Ward in for Kate Bolduan.

Hurricane Harvey, teetering on the verge of a Category 3 storm and growing stronger by the minute. It will likely be the strongest hurricane to slam into the U.S. in a dozen years and it is now just hours from landfall.

The outer bands of the massive storm are already chewing into the Texas coast. Some 17 million people are now under hurricane or tropical storm warnings.

Weather experts say this storm poses three lethal threats. A 12-foot storm surge, that's right, 12-foot, winds greater than 110 miles per hour and a boggling amount of rain, up to 35 inches in some areas.

The storm stalls and triggers catastrophic flooding. A number of coastal counties and cities are now under evacuation orders. Emergency officials saying, with landfall expected late tonight or early tomorrow, the time to flee is quickly running out.

The national hurricane center just released this update. CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater is in the weather center with the details. Tom, what are you learning?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Clarissa, the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center keeps the winds exactly where they were in the last advisory. Teetering on the brink of a Category 3, only needing 1-mile-per-hour to get to that status.

However, the pressure has dropped, many times we see it takes a while for the winds to catch up to that pressure drop. But with the pressure dropping, it's still growing. So, there is no doubt in my mind, we are going to have a Category 3 if not a strong Category 3 at landfall.

Now I know has been wondering are we hyping this? I mean, we are using words like catastrophic and devastation. We are using phrases like -- the likes we have never seen. I know everyone wants to know how strong will it be when it makes landfall and where. The problem is what happens after landfall. This is something of the likes we have never seen. All the computer models have been in agreement. This is what we want to see. We want to see a fairly decent gathering of these models so authorities know where to evacuate, gives us confidence in the forecast.

But we noticed a few days ago, and the concern was, we are losing all dominant steering currents. We want to get the system in and get it out. Watch what happens to all the models. It's a bird's nest.

There's a little difference in today's bird nest than yesterday's bird nest and that is more the models want to make landfall and bring it back offshore where it will intensify or at least keep its intensity and act like a siphon and pick up walls of water and deposit it on all the communities.

Many times what we see is a little bit more of a duration in some of the latter part, we go into the day, and as the days rolled on, we'll see a little bit more significant trailing.

We are starting to see the models move up to the north toward Galveston. So, what we have seen in the last 24 hours quickly for you, is a larger area of white in here. So, again, we are still looking ten plus inches from Austin, San Antonio.

But in white, that's 20, 25, 30 inches. Could we see isolated 35? Yes. The models are in pretty good agreement here, but the heavier monsoon rain, Clarissa, stay more toward the coastline.

He is my problem, though, and I think is a big, big concern. Houston floods with two or three inches across a great part of the city. We are looking at 20 inches in the next five days. This is catastrophic. It is OK. We are not over hyping this. This is going to be a disaster for many, thousands and thousands of people.

WARD: All right. Catastrophic, indeed. All right. Thank you so much, CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater.

Even before the sun came up, the rain started coming down in Galveston. Tropical storm warnings blanket the barrier island and voluntary evacuations are in place in parts of the city.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there with the latest. Ed, what are you seeing? How are people managing to get out? Is anyone staying behind?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Galveston, you can look here, this is the main road that goes along the beach front here. Traffic has been steady throughout the morning here. You can see people are doing their last-minute preparations to get ready for this hurricane.

Here in Galveston, we are probably going to be on the eastern edge of this storm. We are looking back to the Gulf of Mexico there. This is looking toward the hurricane there. You can see how high the surf has gotten. The tide is pretty low at this point, but we are standing on top of the seawall that will protect much of the city that gives ten feet or so. The storm surge could be quite high.

On the far west end of the island, there is a voluntary evacuation order in place. That's more residential. It doesn't have the seawall. Those folks are being urged to consider evacuating that area.

But as we mentioned, it is here where emergency officials in counties around Galveston are really preparing. It doesn't really matter how far inland you go. You go about 30, 40 miles north of here into Houston.

[11:05:10] These are cities and areas that even in tropical storms, not hurricane strength storms, see a great deal of hazardous flooding. So, that flooding concern is one of the main issues that emergency officials here will be dealing with and that they are trying to get people aware of here in the coming days.

As we mentioned, this storm expected to stall out over the region here in Southeast Texas. That, historically, many people around here have seen this over and over again. It doesn't take much of a storm to cause devastating flooding.

Given the size and amount of rain expected to fall, I hear 25 inches, maybe as many as three feet in some isolated areas, that can cause a great deal of problems, potentially deadly problems. That is a great deal of concern here from Corpus Christi all the way to Galveston, Texas -- Clarissa.

WARD: It's 25 inches, just extraordinary. OK. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Within the hour, emergency officials may tell people that if they have not already evacuated, it's too late. Their focus will have to be finding the safest possible shelter.

Federal emergency workers have begun off-loading supplies in the path of the storm. Bottled water and generators will be available in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

Congressman Blake Farenthold represents much of the area now facing the greatest threat. His district stretches along the Texas coast from south of Corpus Christie northward almost to Houston.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. I know how busy today must be. Please give us a sense of how you are preparing?

REPRESENTATIVE BLAKE FARENTHOLD (R), TEXAS: Well, everybody throughout the area who is planning on staying has been in the grocery store stocking up on emergency supplies. Water, in particular, has been difficult to find as are "d" cell batteries. Many people are taken care of, houses boarded up. Those who can leave have left and those of us that are here are here. WARD: What do you say to your constituents who haven't left? At this stage, are you still urging people to leave or do you think that people who haven't left stay put and focus on just safe shelter?

FARENTHOLD: There's not a lot of time left. You probably do have about an hour or so to get out. The winds and rain are already starting to pick up. I'm happy I got my house boarded up yesterday. The winds are getting too high to move those big boards around to board your house. So, the trick is to get prepared and prepared early.

WARD: And of course, we are hearing there's three big factors with Harvey. There's storm surge. There's these winds and there's the risk of flooding. Is there something specifically that impacts your area or that you are most concerned about?

FARENTHOLD: Well, I live in Corpus Christi, which is the southern part of the strike area in the distance. But what's got me concerned overall are some of the forecasts that it may move ashore and stall for several days, which means folks are going to have to make do with the supplies they have on hand.

FEMA has staged tens of thousands of meals -- hundreds of thousands of meals and water up in the Sageen (ph) area, which is about a three- hour drive from here. They are not going to be able to bring it into the affected area until conditions clear.

So, the stalling of the storm and several days of wind and rain really could be a problem for emergency responders and folks who stayed in the area.

WARD: So are FEMA -- are you working closely with FEMA? Are they giving you the resources that you need where you are in the Corpus Christi area?

FARENTHOLD: Well, we've learned a lot of lessons in the federal government from Katrina and some of the storms since. You never can predict everything that's going to happen. Again, the stalling of the storm is a first-time event.

So, FEMA is not going to be able to get in to do disaster relief until the worst of it is over. The preparations too late to do much prep now. We have to ride it out and hope FEMA can get in as soon as possible or actually, we should probably be hoping that we don't need FEMA at all.

But unfortunately, with the strength of the winds and the amount of water, it looks like we are going to need some disaster relief down here.

WARD: And I guess, the last time Texas really saw a major hurricane make landfall was back in 2008 with Hurricane Ike. Do you think the Texans, some of them, have forgotten just how serious a storm of this magnitude can be?

FARENTHOLD: I think the folks who lived here and grew up here know about it. There have been stories through families. My concern is the folks, who have come to Texas in the past ten years.

It's one of the fastest growing states in the country with people leaving California coming to Texas for the business climate. My chief of staff moved here from California. He spent the night securing his house.

[11:10:07] And my question for him as well, which is worse, the earthquakes in California or the hurricanes here. His response was at least we know the hurricanes are coming.

WARD: All right. Congressman Blake Farenthold, thank you so much for taking the time. We will be thinking of you and your constituents throughout the coming hours and days.

Of course, we will have much more coverage of Hurricane Harvey throughout the show, including an interview with a hurricane hunter who has been flying through the storm. Yes, through the storm.

Up next, President Trump attacks another Republican senator on Twitter. Here is what he had to say about Bob Corker, who was once a candidate for secretary of state. Stay with us.


WARD: This morning, as a hurricane threatens millions of Americans, President Trump is unleashing a storm of his own on fellow Republicans.

[11:15:06] One of the targets, the GOP senator who questioned whether the president has the stability to succeed. Trump tweeting, "Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy."

Yesterday, the White House press secretary said she wouldn't even dignify Senator Corker's comments with a response. Just to refresh your memory, here is what he said last week.


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


WARD: Joining me now, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, and New York City councilman, Joseph Borelli. Joe, let me start with you. Big hurricane barreling towards Texas, millions of Americans potentially affected.

The president is on Twitter, lashing out at one of his own party, again, not Senator Flake, I should add, but someone who has historically been a big supporter of the president, who was once considered to be a possible secretary of state. Is this a new front in the president's war against his own party? JOSEPH BORELLI, REPUBLICAN COMMENTATOR: Let's start here. The White House was clear about some of the preparations for the storm that they are making. It's not like they are operating in a bubble where the president's Twitter is governing the country.

This has always been about Donald Trump versus sort of the swamp. You are right, Senator Corker was someone who supported the president in the election. I think Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet a couple of weeks ago actually said it best.

He said, "Isn't it strange when people's private comments don't match what they are saying in public." You have the president calling out Bob Corker because clearly Corker is there trying to get his support for re-election.

I would like to see the Republican Party come together, but this president is someone that has an agenda and willing to go into the home turf of people on either side of the aisle that seem to stand in the way of the agenda.

We saw that this week with the Phoenix rally. I don't think it's fair to summarize everything in terms of Trump and the GOP in disarray. We also have the big six meeting in the White House on a tax reform plan that we expect to be in the House of Representatives next week.

WARD: Yes. But whether it's Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Senator Flake, Senator John McCain, there's a long list now of senior Republicans who the president does seem to have a major issue with.

Speaking to that, Ana, I wanted to ask you about "The Wall Street Journal" has an editorial out where they say, you know what? The Republican Party or Congress, rather, just needs to accept and think of the president as being an independent as opposed to thinking of him as being someone from their own party.

And they go on to say, "This doesn't mean joining Democrats as the resistance, but it does mean acting on their own to fulfill their legislative promises with or without the support of Mr. Trump." Ana, I just wanted to get your thoughts on that. What does that even look like?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, Clarissa, if I may take a moment of personal privilege, 25 years ago, we were waking up to the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Miami. I beg my friends in Texas to please heed the warnings.

Let me do what the president is not doing, which is to focus on this hurricane that is about to barrel down on Texas. Evacuate now. Take the warnings. Take them seriously.

Now as to your question on the politics, I think it's actually a very good advice from "The Wall Street Journal." We have seen for the last seven months, Republicans in Congress kowtow to this president, cut him slack.

Defend him even when it's indefensible, and in turn, he criticizes them, treats them like Pinatas, throws them under the bus. He blames them for legislative failures even though he's taken no ownership, and has not gone out there and sold anything to the American people.

So, I just don't understand why Republicans keep standing behind him. I think he is at heart an independent. This is not a guy who has got deep ideological or deep partisan roots.

When I was a Republican, he was a Democrat. When I was a Republican, he was an independent. Now, he's a Republican. He has been everything there is under the sun. He is not rooted in ideology. He is not rooted in philosophy.

He is, you know, the art of the deal, the art of the dodge, the art of the zigzag. So, I think Republicans need to realize, seven months have gone by. He is not going to have your back. You have to be a co-equal branch of government.

You cannot stand by and allow some of the nonsensical things he says to go by unanswered and Republicans have to behave like Republicans and be the ones that adhere to the policy, and the philosophy and the values because this president will not.

WARD: OK, I can see you want to respond to that just quickly.

BORELLI: I'm glad Ana is acknowledging her own history with the Republican Party, but that's a separate argument.

[11:20:06] NAVARRO: Yes. I have been a Republican since I was 8 years old. Donald Trump has been for five years. I have been a Republican since I was 8.

BORELLI: Anyway, that said, I actually agree with Ana on one occasion here because she is right. Congress is a Republican Congress. They should be out there doing their agenda.

WARD: Right.

BORELLI: President Trump has nearly an identical agenda as the Republican Congress, and yet we saw that it wasn't the president essentially who came up short delivering votes on crucial items that the party has run for eight years or seven years on.

WARD: OK. I just want to move to another topic because there are so many things to discuss today. Gary Cohn, treasury secretary, writing in the "Financial Times" today. I just want to read some of this out.

"I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position. As a patriotic American, I'm reluctant to leave my post as director of the National Economic Council because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to my work on behalf of the American people.

But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks. Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK." What do you make of this? Did it come quickly enough? Why are we hearing this well over a week after Charlottesville?

BORELLI: I think -- I first I commend Gary Cohn for being unambiguous about his denunciation of Nazis, KKK, white supremacists like we all should and like the president did whether people say he did or didn't or we can argue over the time line all day.

I think the even more poignant piece was when he said people pressured him as a Jewish person to leave the administration. But his response was when I heard Nazi's saying, Jews, we will replace you or whatever they were saying.

He thought as a Jewish person, I am better to stay here in the White House in a place of power and try to move the president's agenda and -- and be the one to come out and say things like that.

WARD: All right. But Ana, do you think it was enough?

NAVARRO: Listen, we heard from the get go about rumblings that Gary Cohn was very unhappy. Remember, Gary Cohn was standing behind Trump when he had the press conference last week. Gary Cohn, Elaine Chao, Steve Mnuchin were standing all behind him.

I think it's a very difficult question. Anybody who is in the cabinet, anybody who is serving in the White House, anybody who accepted an ambassadorship from Donald Trump has to look at themselves in the mirror and question, do you want to be associated with this presidency.

Is this what you want to do? It is a difficult balance. Do I want to serve my country and try to make this insanity better or be no part of it and send a message by withdrawing and quitting and saying I cannot be part of this insanity --

WARD: Ana Navarro, it is a difficult question. I'm sorry, we have to end it there. Lots more to discuss. Thank you both. Ana Navarro, Joseph Borelli, thank you so much for being with us.

Coming up next, Hurricane Harvey is just hours from landfall. We'll go live to our reporter in the path of the storm.

Plus, we'll take a look at the devastating effect a hurricane could have on oil rigs and refineries in the path of the storm. That's coming up. Stay with us.



WARD: We are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Harvey as it grows stronger and churns towards the Texas coast. It's expected to be a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall late tonight or early tomorrow. That would make it the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in a dozen years.

But, the danger will only grow in the coming days. Forecasters say the storm will stall over Texas for days and dump a staggering amount of rain, as much as three feet expected in some areas.

We just got a look at preparations for Hurricane Harvey on the ground. Take a look at this view from the air. Right in the eye of the storm. A NOAA hurricane aircraft flew into the monster storm this morning. This is the view from the flight deck.

You can see for yourself how turbulent it is. That's literally my worst nightmare. Here is a look outside. Visibility not so great. NOAA meteorologist and flight director, Ian Sears, has been on many such flights as part of the hurricane hunters. He wasn't on the flight this morning.

This is video of him on a flight during a different storm. He joins us now. Ian, I have to ask you, what is it like to fly into the eye of a storm like that? I can't imagine why anyone would do this.

IAN SEARS, NOAA FLIGHT METEOROLOGIST: It is quite an amazing story to point. You are flying through and you are seeing all the rain bands and the heavy precipitation on radar and then you just kind of hold on as you are punching through that eyewall.

At times, you are absolutely right, it is turbulent and you can get bounced around pretty good. We can provide the best information we can to National Hurricane Center as to exactly where the storm is.

We have to get right into that eyewall to tell you how strong it is and to see how big it is and help the hurricane center find out where it is going to go, how strong is it going to be when it gets there and what are the impacts when it arrives?

WARD: What have you discovered so far about Hurricane Harvey?

SEARS: Hurricane Harvey is definitely a dangerous storm headed for the Texas coast. As you mentioned, the real big threat with this one is the flooding from merely three feet of rain that's forecast in some areas, and also the storm surge.

So, those are probably the two biggest hazards people in the path of Hurricane Harvey are facing.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Take a look right here. This is the coastal community of Rockport, Texas. You can see that storm surge right there. There's been a lot of wind damage and the next concern according to the mayor who I spoke to just inside of 30 minutes ago says they are really concerned about the flooding that is likely to happen.

Nick Valencia is there and Nick, it is early but the mayor says just about an hour ago, some assessment teams got out to see what kind of damage there might be. What have you been able to see?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, we were here just after the sun came up and what we saw on the way in, this community was especially hard-hit by Hurricane Harvey. We have talked to community residents all morning long.

One of them just pulled up to our live shot, Robert Jackson. You rode the storm out here. Everyone I talked to says they described it as just living hell. What was it like for you?

ROBERT JACKSON, ROCKPORT, TEXAS RESIDENT: It was about the most stressful thing I have ever been through. All night long it just blew and blew and blew. It never moved. Normally hurricanes will kind of move. This thing hunkered down right on top of us and I was getting texts from people telling me that they were hearing all these crazy high wind gusts and everything. I was looking outside and saw trees going down and roofs blowing off. It was pretty bad.

VALENCIA: I'm sure a lot of people have come up to us asking to use our satellite phone because they can't get in touch with their families. Have you been able to talk to yours?

JACKSON: Yes. I got a little bit of word out. Maybe they will be watching tv. I got a couple of phone calls, a neighbor rode the storm out also and they have an old-fashioned landline that doesn't require electricity. I was able to make a couple calls.

VALENCIA: What was the worst of it that you have seen? We talked to the sheriff, he was talking about getting calls, roofs being ripped off homes, walls toppling on people and they couldn't respond.

JACKSON: There's a number of buildings that are completely flattened that have been here forever. I have lost 300, 400, 500-year-old oak trees in my yard blown over, blown down. I have a huge magnolia tree sitting on my roof.

VALENCIA: Ever seen anything like this before?

JACKSON: I have seen it before. I have never personally been through it before, but you know, this is a really bad hurricane as far as hurricanes go.

VALENCIA: We understand this is a community that has missed or sort of dodged a bullet. The hurricanes in the past have missed this community. The sheriff told me about 50 percent or 60 percent of the town decided to stay because this -- it's been a missed target in the past.

JACKSON: I didn't realize that many stayed. I thought I was about one of the very few stupid ones that stuck around. It's my last one to ride out, I will tell you that.

VALENCIA: The experience was that harrowing?

JACKSON: Yes. It was just all-night long. I didn't sleep a wink. It sounded like a freight train with square wheels. It was just loud as it could be. I just didn't know when it was going to take my roof off.

[11:35:04] VALENCIA: We're glad you survived. Your family I'm sure is even more happy. Thank you so much for taking the time. Good luck. We wish your community well.

We see just off to the side here, Fred, there's sort of an impromptu press conference going on. First responders have been canvassing the area all morning long to try to assess how bad this community has been hit. If you can make that out, some of the flagpoles have been bent at the base.

Just beyond that public safety center, you can see one of the cell phone towers that had a lot of this -- just been damaged. You can't get a cell signal out of here. We have been working to try to broadcast here for about the last hour using a satellite signal.

Thankfully we've been able to get out, but the community here has just really, no doubt about it, gone through a lot. At least 200 people from what I'm told are in a local shelter here but the real emphasis, though, according to the sheriff, Bill Mills, is the concern about finding bodies in these homes.

There was a very ominous and dire warning given by the local leadership last night asking local residents who did decide to wait out this storm to write their Social Security number on their forearm and their names, in case local officials had to recover those bodies.

Those local officials are going door by door right now, asking for all the help they can get throughout the state. This community here in Rockport still reeling after Hurricane Harvey touched down earlier.

WHITFIELD: Right. It is still early, Nick, early for teams to be able to get out there and assess. Just seeing those bent flagpoles is striking. That tells quite the story of how forceful those winds were to your left.

I'm wondering if you can kind of pan around to your right and kind of dictate for us, do a little show and tell of what is around you. I realize that's first responders, you know, building behind you but perhaps to give us an idea of the landscape there. The mayor did say this was a fishing and kind of art community. Tell us and show us more.

VALENCIA: Sure. This is a generational community. A community that families have been here for a really long time. I was talking to a local resident, let's just show you around here, Fred.

I was talking to one of those local residents. They were telling me that's part of the reason why people have decided to stay. They say they knew it had the potential of being bad, and people here are so close that they wanted to stay in the event their neighbor needed their help.

Just down that road that my photographer is pointing out, that's the volunteer fire department. We stopped by there when we first arrived and talked to some of those local volunteers. It's really a makeshift department, organized -- I should say the collection of them is really college-aged students.

When we knocked on the door, the look in their eyes, it's just so hard to describe. Their eyes, it's as if they had been, you know, hadn't been shut in hours. They all looked like they had lived through an experience or just seen something near death.

I asked one of them what it was like to go through it and they just had no words. Let's just continue to show you around Rockport. The first time we are seeing this here on CNN. The extent of the damage here goes block by block by block. Flooding is a major problem here.

Also, you see some of those downed power lines, you see some of those light poles that have been bent, as it were. Houses, you could see they did take the precaution to board up some of their homes.

There is some writing on there saying go away, Harvey. Some of those other boards, you can't really make them out on camera but I walked down there a little while ago and the owner apparently had written every single hurricane that they had been through on one of those pieces of plywood that they used to secure their house, just giving the indication that this community, it's not the first time they have seen something like this.

Let me show you this. This is something that really is interesting to me. This palm tree here, just how much it's been bent. These palm trees on the side, the velocity of this wind not only blowing out the windows to these police cars, also bending palm trees that are not easy to move.

This community, you know, we were shocked when we first arrived ourselves. I'm with a photographer who worked in Hurricane Katrina, a sound check engineer who was there as well, and they were even impressed by the damage on the way in, just how significant it has been here in Rockport. It will be weeks before they recover -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Nick, the mayor mentioned earlier that he heard there were people who may have hunkered down in churches and even school buildings, but he wasn't able to confirm that. Is that something you learned while you were there?

VALENCIA: Yes. We were told that they weren't able to respond to some of their calls. I was talking to the mayor as well as the sheriff earlier when we first got here, just as they were coming out of the public safety center to look at what had happened here.

They said they had about an hour and a half window as the eye of the storm was coming over them for them to try to evacuate people. They said they were able to evacuate 20 people in one instance and get them to safety.

[11:40:04] But what really concerned them, what was really troubling for them, I could tell they were bothered by it, is that they were not able to respond to at least 30 calls.

You heard in the interview I just had with Robert Jackson, the sheriff told me there were calls that he had of people that had their roofs ripped off their homes, people that had walls, reporting walls that toppled on top of them. We spoke to another resident a little while ago who says he knows of at least one family that is still trapped, their home surrounded by water. It was a really striking scene when we got here as we were trying to establish our report here that we are doing now.

As people were coming up to us, seeing us communicate on a satellite phone, a lot of people wanted to come talk to us to see if they could use the phone to communicate with their family.

In fact, one of our local affiliates had called our assignment desk to try to get in touch with their crew because it had been hours that they couldn't get in touch with their crew. Thankfully, they're OK.

This community here, we were hoping that majority of them that decided to ride out this storm are OK as well, but we will have to wait and see for that -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we will indeed. All right. Nick Valencia, thanks so much. You are working with one of the best in that photographer, Steve (inaudible). I have been with him overseas and across the country. He's seen a lot. He's got a great eye. I know you all will be able to spot those areas where people need the most help in Rockport, Texas. Thank you so much, Nick and Steve. We will check back with you.

Meantime, we will continue our live coverage here of Texas being hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. You are looking at Katy, Texas and some of the damage sustained there just outside of Houston. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Heavy rain and strong winds are hitting the city of Galveston. Officials there are expecting to see two to four-foot storm surges. Power outages are already being reported. Ed Lavandera is on the island. So, Ed, what is the latest that you're seeing and experiencing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. Well, there had been a rain band that had been hitting the shore here for quite some time throughout much of the morning, bringing that dreaded rainfall and that continued rainfall that many emergency officials here along the Texas gulf coast have been dreading and worrying the most about here at this point.

The wind has died down considerably, considering how strong it was last night and through the morning as well. So that's a good sign in terms of wind damage. We have been able to assess a little bit of the situation here on Galveston Island.

Speaking with a couple folks, the sheriff here on the island, and seeing for ourselves, there is some minor reports of street flooding in various places. One of the feeder roads on to the island also seems to be underwater. But all in all, everything seeming to do pretty well. The port of Galveston which is obviously very popular for cruise ships, carnival cruise lines has two ships that were supposed to have docked here about this time.

However, since the port is closed and the seas are just too treacherous to sail in, those two cruise liners are still, we are told by Carnival officials, out at sea making a brief stop in New Orleans to refuel and that sort of thing.

So, those folks on those cruise ships just kind of waiting this out as well. We are told they are a safe distance from the storm, but they were supposed to have been here, you kind of get a sense of how much this storm is really turning lives upside down here and really affecting the situation.

But obviously, the greatest concern, the most important concern now, turns to flooding and this torrential rain that continues to fall throughout much of the region. You can see here the surf in the Gulf of Mexico continues to be very high.

The storm surge from these waters haven't really peaked here over the seawall. That's good news. It's protected much of Galveston. But as you head a little further west from where we are.

And you head down toward Corpus Christi and Rockport, those were communities and areas that had been affected and areas where there had been mandatory evacuations. So, we are still trying to get a handle and a sense on some of the other areas, not just in Rockport as well.

And waiting to hear back from emergency officials who are going through those areas and surveying the damage and what they're dealing with. So, all of that work here continues today and of course, the rain continues to fall as forecasters had been expecting and predicting.

That is going to cause problems throughout the day. As several people have mentioned, predicting exactly where these -- where the flooding is going to occur and the very deadly, potentially deadly flooding, is almost impossible to predict. So, people need to be very aware of their surroundings to make sure they take care of themselves -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good advice. Thank you so much, Ed Lavandera. We will check back with you there from Galveston.

Our live coverage continues of Hurricane Harvey after this.



WHITFIELD: As Hurricane Harvey continues to batter Texas, President Trump tweeted this morning that he's got an eye on the storm. The president tweeting closely monitoring Hurricane Harvey from Camp David. "We are leaving nothing to chance. City, state and federal governments working great together." With much of America focused on the monster storm, President Trump now getting blowback for a series of headline moves made at the height of the hurricane's landfall last night.

First, the president pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The controversial lawman was convicted of criminal contempt related to targeting undocumented immigrants and was facing an October sentencing.

Then the White House announced Trump's controversial White House Adviser Sebastian Gorka resigning. That was followed up by another major headline, as the president signed a directive banning transgender military recruits.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joining us now from Washington to walk through all of these headlines. All of this taking place as the hurricane was descending on the mainland.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. This seems to be a pattern with this White House. Huge controversial news coming on Friday afternoons and Friday evenings.

First, you have the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man once known as America's toughest sheriff. The president had alluded to potentially pardoning Sheriff Arpaio in a tweet several weeks ago. He hinted at it at his rally in Phoenix, Arizona on Tuesday night.

And then yesterday, we get this statement from the White House, the official pardon for Sheriff Arpaio being signed, in part citing his more than 50 years' service to the country and saying that he's, quote, "a worthy candidate for a pardon."

The condemnation was swift, including from both of Arizona's Republican senators. Here's a tweet from John McCain in which he writes, quote, "POTUS' pardon of Joe Arpaio who illegally profiled -- actually, this is not the tweet. We will bring up the tweet in a second.

It says that the president's pardon of Joe Arpaio who illegally profiled Latinos undermines his claim for the respect of the rule of law. The president also criticized Jeff Flake this week, who also mentioned that the president didn't follow the rule of law in pardoning Arpaio.

He didn't go through the typical means of achieving a pardon through the Department of Justice. A source telling CNN's Laura Jarrett that this was the president's pardon. The DOJ had nothing to do with it.

Arpaio was actually on Fox News last night. Here's some of what he said.


JOE ARPAIO, FORMER ARIZONA SHERIFF PARDONED BY PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): I love the president. He supports law enforcement and I'm very humbled. If you recall two years ago, I supported him and I said publicly recently, pardon or no pardon, I will be with him until the end.

And I'm going to have a news conference early next week and get to the bottom of this, show the abuse of the judicial system in politics. I'm not going down without trying to defend myself to all those people that don't like what I have done.


SANCHEZ: Aside from this controversial story, Fred, you have the departure of Sebastian Gorka. That's certainly controversial and the moving forward of this transgender ban.

The White House putting out a directive to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security saying that they should figure out what to do with those transgender people currently in the armed forces, and to end an Obama-era recruiting effort of transgender people to serve our country -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. Quite the headlines. Let's discuss these major issues with our panel.

Joining me now is David Swerdlick, who is a CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post." Also with me, Abigail Tracy, who is a staff writer for "Vanity Fair." Good to see both of you.

All right. David, let me begin with you. This Friday news dump, it's a long time Washington tradition. The Trump administration so far seems to be kind of embracing that.

Last Friday, it was Steve Bannon's resignation. You have this trifecta occurring in the middle of this Category 4 hurricane. Is it your belief that the White House was hoping those headlines might be buried or is this in an effort to almost upstage the hurricane?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I know there's already been in the last 12 hours, competing theories about whether this was a traditional Friday dump or like a reverse dump almost designed to amplify these.

I think it's probably one of those two. Maybe it lies somewhere in between. I think you can look at it as a classic dump at least in the sense that the president is in Camp David, not at the White House.

There's not a White House press briefing today. These things were done late in the day yesterday and as the hurricane, Hurricane Harvey, was approaching Texas. It all kind of swirled into one big news mess or news soup.

I think the more important thing, though, Fred, is that President Trump both with the transgender ban in the military and with the pardon of Joe Arpaio, in my view, these things are tied together in the sense that we have crossed a bridge as a society on some of these issues, on racial profiling, on equality in the military.

And the president in response to his base, is crossing back across that bridge and I think that's why he's getting so much criticism for this. People want him to move forward. A lot of people want him to move forward. He seems to be moving backwards.

WHITFIELD: And particularly, Abigail, at a time with the pardoning of former Sheriff Arpaio after Charlottesville and the criticism that the White House, particularly the president, got on his handling of such.

Now back to an issue and a figure which many segments of the United States public feel is back to racial issues and calling Arpaio a racist. Now the president siding with and the message it's sending.

ABIGAIL TRACY, STAFF WRITER, "VANITY FAIR": Well, I think obviously this is going to play well with his base, especially those who voted for him on his immigration platform. But I also think it plays to this idea and this trend we have continuously seen, which is the number one currency in Trump world is loyalty.

Sheriff Joe is somebody for years who has supported the president unflinchingly, has always been there, always defended him. I think what we saw on Friday night was a reward for that loyalty.

I think especially after Charlottesville when Donald Trump was facing criticism and attacks, I think he's looking to figures who sort of have always been there for him and always had his back. I think Sheriff Joe is one of those people. I kind of see it as more of a reward than anything that will also of course play well with his base.

WHITFIELD: And then David, we heard from Arizona Senators Flake and McCain, very critical of this pardoning. How does this perhaps set the stage or might this be a continuation of a real strained relationship between the president and members of Congress, in this case, Senate, in trying to get things done moving forward?

SWERDLICK: Sure. Well, I think you had a more cautious statement from Senator Flake who in general has been one of the most vocal Republican critics of the president but he's up for re-election.

Senator McCain, who is not up for re-election, gave a much stronger criticism of the president's pardon of Sheriff Arpaio. In both cases, in the case of a lot of mainstream Republicans in Congress, as you point out, Fred, because President Trump has really doubled down on his core base, his approval ratings right now are in the mid-30s.

And because Republicans now see that he is really sort of frozen in this popularity and not increasing his popularity, at least for the moment, they have room to disagree with him and they have room to break with him when they want to.

I think that maybe doesn't bode as well for Republicans going into September when they really have to get some things done. They have got to do the debt ceiling. They want to do tax reform.

When you have a situation where Republicans don't feel obligated to fall in line behind the White House, it doesn't make things impossible, but it makes things difficult.

WHITFIELD: And so on the other huge issue now, the banning of transgenders, the president has said he respects his generals. Yet many have said this is the opposite of what the military has evolved into in terms of its inclusion, a voluntary military service.

If you are willing to serve then you should be at the table. So how does this potentially set the stage for the ongoing relations between the president and the military?

TRACY: Well, of course, it kind of harkens back to the "don't ask, don't tell" era. I think between with the military, this wasn't something the military was really pushing for. It wasn't something that they were asking for.

I think it will be difficult. But a lot of questions do remain in terms of what General Mattis will do with the people currently serving in the military. I think the lead time on that is about six months. A lot can change.

So, we will sort of see how he tackles that issue. Obviously, this is a very controversial thing and these people want to serve for the United States and they are voluntarily putting themselves out there.