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Trump's Sunday Tweets; Tillerson and Mattis Distance Themselves; Trump to Visit Texas; Resident Reacher Father after Storm; FEMA Estimates 30,000 Plus are Headed to Shelters. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, some live pictures from our affiliate KTRK in Houston right now. you can see one of our affiliate reporters has been traveling along a boat there as it makes rescues this morning and checks in on homes. That's a street you're looking at right now. Not a canal.

And we've seen some of the traffic on this canal, jet skis. Not cars. That is what is traveling right now in and around Houston, the fourth largest city in America. Boats, jet skis, kayaks, canoes. You can see animals being rescued right along with people. The pets need to be taken care of as well.

And this scene is being played out all across that city this morning. Just remarkable pictures.

And this is coming as Texas is bracing for even more rain. We know that President Trump is expected to go to Texas tomorrow. He will not visit the hardest-hit areas. He said on Twitter that he wanted to make that trip, quote, without causing disruption. Texas Governor Greg Abbott reaffirmed that just a few moments ago.

The president was monitoring the storm all weekend. He was making frequent comments about it as well. It wasn't the only thing he was commenting on. He promoted a book by a controversial Milwaukee sheriff, David Clarke (ph). He talked about an upcoming trip to Missouri, a state that he made sure to mention that he won by a lot. And he was talking about NAFTA and the fact that Mexico will pay for the border wall. So the president had a lot on his mind this weekend, in addition to monitoring the hurricane.

Joe Johns for us at the White House for the White House perspective on this storm.



With all the talk about Texas, it's important not to overlook a little bit of news here out of the White House this morning. The president approving the emergency declaration for the state of Louisiana as a result of Harvey. It's just one more indication that we're at the very beginning of this process for the federal government, which is going to be a response that goes months and even years. The first challenge of its type for this new administration. As you

said, we do know the president is expected to go to Texas tomorrow. We just got word a little while ago in an interview with the vice president. He confirmed that Mrs. Trump, Melania Trump, will also be accompanying the president to Texas.

They are not likely to go into the disaster zone. More likely to go either to San Antonio and/or the city of Austin. The administration, of course, very cognizant of the fact that whenever the president travels, he also requires public safety personnel to work with him and he doesn't want to distract from the ongoing response to the disaster.

Now, all of this going on as the controversy that has engulfed the presidency of Donald Trump continues, especially the controversy surrounding his remarks after the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, on another network over the weekend, the secretary of state essentially sidestepping a question about the president's values and the defense secretary caught on video more or less talking about the discord in the United States and telling military personnel to hold the line. Listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: And the president's values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines. Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, being friendly to one another.


JOHNS: For now, though, the main focus is on the disaster of Texas. We do expect to see the president of the United States this afternoon at a news conference with the president of Finland.


BERMAN: And no doubt will talk about the disaster response.

Joe Johns for us at the White House.

Joining me now to discuss, April Ryan, a CNN political analyst who's covered the White House for a long, long time. Also with us, CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter and Ben Ferguson.

April, I do want to start with you, because you've been through this before with past presidents.


BERMAN: What do you think the Trump administration, based on what we've seen the last few days, has learned from past presidents and their disaster response?

RYAN: i don't know if this president has learned from past presidents because there's quite a difference in what we've seen with this president in these last couple of days with what past presidents would have done. And, you know, John, I talked to -- before we went on the air -- a former White House press secretary who said to me, this president does not still understand the majesty of his office and the use of the bully pulpit. You can't use the bully pulpit in 140 characters.

But looking back, there's something to be said for institutional knowledge. You know, I remember when Katrina happened. You know, we saw the problems, the slow response at the beginning for Katrina. And -- but we also saw a president who continued to roll his sleeves up and to try to correct. He made statements from the French Quarter. He made statements from the Oval Office about Katrina. He continued to focus -- I mean there were many days that he was hunkered down in the emergency response offices to find out how they could help. Because those were some horrific scenes there.

[09:35:33] I also remember, you know, then President Barack Obama, when there was a storm, he would warn people -- you know, you would see him with his sleeves rolled up. He would warn people about, you know, take safety. Go to shelter. Listen to your local authorities.

And you have to remember, though -- and I'm going back to Katrina as well.


RYAN: This harkens -- I mean this reminds me so much of Katrina. You're seeing what's happening, the rescue right now. But there are years that, down the road, we will see things like trying to fix homes, fix the communities. Not only that, Ben Carson, the head of HUD, will have to deal with the dislocation of residents now. That's something people forgot about in Katrina. That's a big issue this administration has to deal with.

And also the insurance issues, how water came. I remember all of that. And this is part and parcel what happened with Katrina.


RYAN: There is going to be a long, long line of things that this president has to deal with.

BERMAN: Yes, today it's about saving life, but the need is just beginning past this.

RYAN: Yes.

BERMAN: And, Amanda, there is a virtue for any administration, for any executive to give the appearance of action, which we have had from the White House over the last few days. I don't think there's any question that the president has been monitoring this in communications with the disaster officials. Brock Long, the head of FEMA, he has experience in just this. He is on his way to Texas at this very moment right now.

And I suppose what is most important isn't necessarily what is just on Twitter, but it's whether or not the folks in Texas, the state and local officials, feel like they are getting the help that they need from the federal government. And at least so far, and this thing is far from over, it seems that they're satisfied.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, but I do think it's far too early in this crisis to tell how it's going to end up. Trump is very fortunate to have very, you know, strong people surrounding him on the ground through FEMA.

But what I am curious to see is how Trump's attitude may change after he witnesses the destruction. If you look at his tweets in the run-up to this, he's saying, hey, it's going well. And, yes, the people on the ground are performing heroically, tremendously. But we are just in the first stages of this crisis. And so I'm curious to see what he says and how he changes after he witnesses this firsthand because President Trump is a successful man, but he's not one who's been exposed to suffering and strife in his life. And this may open his eyes in a new way.

BERMAN: Empathy is so often what is need here in this type of situation.

Ben Ferguson, if I can, I want to shift gears now. And, Ben, you may see some evacuees in Dallas, your home town, soon. But I want to shift gears to something else we saw over the weekend, which I thought was remarkable, which was the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- and you watch this video, I have many, many times now, and we saw it with Joe Johns moments ago. There doesn't seem to be any question that he was creating serious separation between himself and the president of the United States, specifically in how the president responded to Charlottesville. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, says, no one should question American values. As for the president, the secretary said, the president speaks for himself. There seems to be some serious dissension within the senior ranks of the Trump administration, Ben.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I've got to push back with you a little bit on that one. I think his point was, the president always speaks for himself. And you can see exactly what the president has said here. And the president speaks for himself.

I think his job is to obviously listen to his people and listen to people that he works with every day. But when you're asked about the president, I think you can say the president speaks for himself. I don't think that's as much dissension as it is, you're not going to stick words into the mouth of the president of the United States of America, who's your boss.

BERMAN: Well, if the president of the United States doesn't speak for the United States, who does? FERGUSON: Well, I -- I think there's a lot of people that will say no

matter what the president says, that he doesn't speak for them as Americans. We've seen that very clearly since he was elected and even during the campaign. I don't think you can have it both ways here.

I think when you have someone that works for the president saying the president speaks for himself, I don't see that as much dissension or as some sort of infighting as I think you're trying to imply. I think what you have there is someone who said clearly, the president speaks for himself. And what he had to say about this is very clearly marked on this issue.

BERMAN: Let me -- let me -- let me get a quick reaction from Amanda on this.

Amanda, go ahead, quickly.

CARPENTER: What it -- yes, I would just say, John, what it is, it's a very clever out that many of Trump's defenders and surrogates need to use when they cannot defend what he said, saying the president speaks for himself is a nice way of saying something when you can't say anything nice at all.

[09:40:03] BERMAN: All right, Amanda Carpenter, April Ryan, Ben Ferguson, thank you to you all. I know you each have your own connections to what's going on right now in Texas, living there, having worked for Senator Ted Cruz, April, being through this so many times before from your post as well. So, thanks for being with us, helping us shed some light on what's going on.

This is a landmark event. The head of FEMA is warning this disaster is changing by the minute and he is gearing up for the long haul.



BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is still an ongoing situation. We're not at recovery yet. We're thinking and planning for recovery. We have recovery teams down, you know, down in Texas. But right now this mission, it's very important, this is a life safety, life sustaining mission.

Helping Texas overcome this disaster is going to be far greater than FEMA coordinating the mission of the entire federal government. We need citizens to be involved.


[09:45:12] BERMAN: That was FEMA administrator Brock Long moments before he boarded a plane for Texas. Is he on his way there right now. Long called on the people in the community to help with search and rescue efforts for those stranded by Harvey. FEMA anticipates about 30,000 people will need temporary shelter this week.

Joining me now is someone who has seen this type of disaster and response firsthand, James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA himself.

Mr. Witt, thank you so much for being with us.

I want to get your assessment of the size and scope of this catastrophe so far and the response.

JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEMA: Well, John, I think this could go down as probably the -- one of the costliest disasters we've seen in the United States. And, you know, Katrina was very costly but this is going to take a long time to recover and it's going to be massive. And, you know, you're going to deal with infrastructure problems. You're going to deal with street problems and road problems and bridge problems. So this is going to take some time to rebuild. And, you know, people just have to be patient because I know FEMA and the governor and everyone's working hard now to save lives. But this is a long-term event.

BERMAN: And the patience seems to be what is so difficult with this particular event because what appears to be unique to it is the duration, right? We are, what, two and a half days in and it is still raining. Twenty more inches of rain could fall in some days. People need to be convinced to worry about their lives right now before they start thinking about their belongings and insurance and things like that, correct?

WITT: Absolutely. But, you know, as they -- as they look forward after the response and recovery of the -- and the safety of the individuals and the communities, but also they need to look forward a few weeks down the road now of how are we going to build back? Are we going to build back better and safer? Are we going to let it go as it has?

And the thing of it is, if you look at climate change and you look at the weather systems that we're getting today, just normal rainstorms are six or seven inches. And we have to start doing more in prevention and mitigation before these events happen. And we've got to break the damage repair, damage repair cycle. This is -- this is extremely -- you know, people have worked all their lives for what they had and now it's lost and gone. And so this is going to be a really, really tough recovery.

BERMAN: Director, what do you see as a president's role surrounding a natural disaster like this, specifically the days prior to, the days of and immediately after? We know President Trump headed down to Texas tomorrow. What kind of a message does that trip send?

WITT: Well, I think it's very important that he goes. And I think it's really important that he meets with those officials that have been working so hard, you know, day and night in helping -- in saving lives. I also think it's important that he meets with the victims because it's important to show those people that he's there, the country is behind them, and that they're going to be there for the long haul to make this work for them and help them get their lives put back together.

BERMAN: You know, it's an important touchstone for people suffering. They want to know that the federal government is with them. And one of the signals that can be sent is a presidential trip like that.

And I don't want to let you go without asking something, and I know you care deeply about, which is that each and every person in the United States, you think, needs to be more prepared for any type of event, correct?

WITT: Absolutely. You know, everybody needs to be responsible for themselves and their families. They need to plan ahead. I work with a foundation in California called Hero In You Foundation. It's a free program where they have -- (INAUDIBLE) has developed a prevention program for children and it's interactive with Rocky, the Dalmatian pup, and it trains children to how they can help prevent events from costing them their lives and their families' lives. It's a great program.

BERMAN: This is something everyone needs to think about when the times are not as tough as they are right now, as we're seeing in the coast of Texas.

James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA, thank you so much for being with us. Do appreciate it.

WITT: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, we want to go back now to Rockport, Texas. Just a few minutes ago, our Nick Valencia was with Aaron Mitchell, a man whose home was destroyed and was completely displaced and felt powerless.

Nick, I understand you're with us again. Nick Valencia right now. Aaron Mitchell just got ahold of his father. Explain to us what happened.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there's a lot of reasons that we get up in the morning to do our job and I think our crew here felt one of those. Just a little while ago we were able to help connect Aaron Mitchell with his father. There's nothing I can do to describe this moment, to give it justice. We'll let you just look at it yourselves.


AARON MITCHELL, ARANSAS PASS RESIDENT: OK, dad. I'm going jump on a bus. I'll be there. Are you OK? Yes, I'll jump -- I'll jump on one. Yes, I'm in Rockport. OK. Dad, I love you. OK. All right, I love you. I'm going to get off here. I'm going to -- I'll be right there. Yes. Yes, sir. Bye, dad.


[09:50:54] VALENCIA: All the credit goes to our sound tech engineer, Mark Iluilani (ph), for making that connection, for connecting Aaron Mitchell to his father.

And just behind us are here, guys, those are the buses that are evacuating Rockport residents, Aransas Country residents, to Austin, Texas. That's where Aaron Mitchell's father is right now. And you can see, you're looking at him right now talking to one of the members of the Army that are here to help out the local residents.

It looks like Aaron is going to be OK. He's getting on that bus. And he's, at the very least, going to be reunited with his family.

But, you know, it's just such an amazing moment to see. We have been surrounded by tragedy the last three days and moments like that -- tender, beautiful moments like that, they don't come around often.


BERMAN: And, Nick, I have to tell you, just in the few minutes since you made your first report with Aaron and told about his needs, people reaching out on social media wanting to know what they could do to help Aaron. Just allowing him to talk to his father, having him make that connection when he feels like he's lost everything can change so much.

And we wish our best to Aaron and his father in the next few days. You heard Aaron say, dad, I love you so much.

Nick Valencia, thank you so much to you.

Really, this story just beginning in Texas along the coast right now. So much rain already. So much more on the way. We have some live pictures right now, I think right now, of the streets in and around the Houston area. You can see these boats everywhere right now trying to help where they can. We'll give you the latest forecast and much more on Harvey, next.


[09:56:51] BERMAN: FEMA expects more than 30,000 people will need to take shelter because of Harvey. Some 2,500 people already camped out at a convention center in downtown Houston. On the phone with us right now, Houston area Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for being with us.

First, can I go to you as a reporter, not a member of Congress. Give us a sense of the situation this morning. How do things look to you right now?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS (via telephone): You know, I hesitate, John, to stay stable. Last night at the George R. Brown Convention Center in early morning there was a steady stream, a flow of people and more yet to come. The main issue is that we have so many people that have to be rescued, so many people that will be out of their homes and in some parts of the county, Tarrent (ph) County in particular, the floods are rising. In some parts there may be at least the image that they are receding. But it's not accurate.

As you well know, we had to do a major, I'd say, unusual releasing of our reservoir. We have not felt the full impact of that. But the human crisis is that there are still so many of my constituents and others who are still homebound, floods coming not to their door, but in their house, and we've got to get them out. That's my priority and as well to make sure that they get to safety.

They're coming in wet. They're coming in with minimally a plastic bag of clothing. And so they have only what's on their backs. And maybe they've been able to save some of their personal papers. We've got to get these folks in a position to be able to be safe and secure.

We've got medical crisis and I want to be -- I want to thank all of the first responders, police, Harris County police, sheriffs, firefighters, National Guard, Coast Guard, they're out there. But there are neighborhoods, which Houston is a city of neighborhoods, that have been not yet touched. They've got to get those people out. And that's the work that we need to do. And we've got to be able to have the shelters and the resources that are necessary.

BERMAN: You know, and I know they are trying. We've spoken to county and city officials all morning and they have those rescue boats out there trying to help. And it's not just government efforts right now. You know, people who may have a kayak in their garage are out there trying to rescue people. There's been a remarkable outpouring of neighbor helping neighbor.

But I do hear in your voice, if you are trying to send any message at all, is that the worst may not be over yet. There is a growing need to reach people still desperate to get out of their homes, correct?

LEE: John, thank you for acknowledging the good Samaritans. They are out there. And if I might encourage others to be out there.

But, yes, there are still people in their homes. And one of the populations that is most impacted is our senior citizens. They may not have hard lines. They may not have access. They may not be able to reach it. They may have moved up to the upper level.

[10:00:03] I spoke to two seniors last night. I kept trying to call them. We could not get in. I'm trying to find out what happened to them.