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Trump and First Lady to Visit Texas; Volunteers Pull Residents from Flooded Home; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Rain is stall falling. Those are vehicles. Now frankly there should be no vehicles out on the roads right now. Only boats should be traveling on these roadways, what's left of the roadways, covered by feet of water right now as you can see. Again, we'll get an update from the mayor any minute.

We do know the president of the United States and now Melania Trump headed to Texas tomorrow. They are not going to go to Houston, the area hardest hit, but they will go and meet with state and local officials who are coordinating the disaster response.

Our Joe Johns at the White House for the very latest -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, it was the vice president who confirmed in an interview with the Texas radio station this morning that Melania Trump, the first lady, will accompany her husband, the president, on that trip to Texas tomorrow. As you said, they are not likely to go to the heart of the disaster zone, more likely to go to San Antonio or perhaps Austin, Texas.

The reason being that the president is concerned that whenever he travels, he also has a contingent of public safety personnel who have to assist him and he doesn't want to detract from the ongoing response effort. So the administration trying to show just a bit of sensitivity to the situation on the ground in Texas right now.

As far as the presidents' day goes today, he has already signed an order declaring an emergency in the state of Louisiana, also hit by this storm. That allows FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to step in.

The president also expected to sign another order today which essentially would step back the -- increase, I should say, the ability of local police departments to use surplus military equipment. This would roll back an Obama-era rule that was put in place after the controversy surrounding militarization of police departments after the Ferguson riots.

Also today, we're expected to see the president in a news conference with the president of Finland, very likely to get some questions there about the federal response to the situation in Texas. This, of course, is a response that is going to go on for months, perhaps years, and is the very first challenge of its type that this administration, of course, has faced -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe, thanks so much.

Joining us now is Amber Phillips, the political reporter for "Washington Post's" political blog, "The Fix," Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, And Salena Zito, a CNN contributor.

Guys, I do have to warn you. We are waiting to hear from the Houston mayor. We may have to cut out and go to that the minute that he starts speaking.

But, Salena, I do want to start with you. And any president, any new administration knows it is in a fish bowl. It is being watched very carefully by how it responds to natural disasters. We've seen it before, we're seeing it now. How would you assess what the president and his team are doing?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think to date, so far, I think they have done a very good job in terms of communication, reminding people to stay safe, offering support and -- you know, to the people that are at risk in this situation. He's freed up the money in Texas immediately as soon as it hit the ground, but he also freed up money in Louisiana. Very important. He's staying ahead of the game.

I think that the president has the benefit of learning from the mistakes that were made in Katrina and also the mistakes that were made with the BP oil spill in terms of not only how you, you know, handle it visually, but also in freeing up the money.

The most important thing right now is giving the local resources all the money available so that they can continue the rescue and then recovery efforts. And then to free up the money so that people can start to begin to rebuild.

BERMAN: And Ron Brownstein, that has been the response, you know, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday from the president. Again, we will hear it today. There's also been, you know, hardcore politics going on in those days, not completely connected to the hurricane.

Friday night, as the storm was hitting, we learned that President Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an extremely controversial move. The sheriff who was convicted of contempt of court for continuing to administer certain rules on immigrants in and around Arizona, though the court had told him not to.

You think this was a very important move, a signal from the president, a clear decision about where he's headed and whom he's addressing right now as president.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Absolutely. I think the Arpaio pardon is kind of a culminating moment in what we have seen I think since the fall of the health care bill where the president suffered significant erosion among his core supporters, culturally conservative, older and blue-collar whites.

[10:35:05] And really since that moment, since the health care bill started going down, we have seen a significant turn to the right on cultural and social issues starting with the ban on transgender soldiers, cutting illegal -- proposing to cut legal immigration in half, cracking down on new offensive against sanctuary cities, Charlottesville, of course, protect our statues, and then the pardon of Arpaio, who, you know, I think for many critics is to the 21st century integration of Hispanics into American society. What Bill Connor was to the 20th century integration of African-Americans into American society. So I think this is an important moment.

By the way, I think on the flooding, there are near-term and long-term politics. The near-term politics is obviously dealing with the immediate crisis and getting people out of harm's way. There are issues right around the corner, how are we going to pay for this and whether the Republicans, who in the aftermath of Sandy, including both Texas senators, who said they would not fund reconstruction unless it was offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

Will the Texas Republicans still hold to that standard? At some point, also and perhaps another day after, we're going to ask once in a lifetime event in Katrina, once in a lifetime event in Sandy, once in a lifetime event here, is the climate change debate -- do we need to have that debate more directly than we have been doing so? We may have our own, you know, thoughts about what nature is doing. Nature has its own plans.

BERMAN: Yes. These are questions no doubt being asked right now even as lives are being saved at this very moment in and around Houston.

Amber, if I can, I want to play some sound from you over the weekend right now. Again, we're waiting for the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, to brief us on the very latest on the rescue efforts around Houston.

Over the weekend the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he was on the Sunday shows, and he was being asked about the various responses that the White House, the president had to the violence in Charlottesville and sort of the American spirit overall. And his response was jarring. Listen to this.


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 ANCHOR: And the president's values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.

WALLACE: Are you separating yourself from that, sir?

TILLERSON: I have spoken -- I've made my own comments as to our values as well in a speech I gave to the State Department this past week.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So, Amber, you know, the secretary of State seemed to suggest that the president's values aren't necessarily American values and aren't necessarily his values.

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST'S "THE FIX" BLOG: Yes. You say jarring, John? I say absolutely jaw-dropping. You know, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not only was separating himself from the president's response to Charlottesville, in that interview he was separating pretty much the entire State Department saying America and our government's values essentially aren't the same at the president's.

Also this weekend, a Facebook video from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis popped up of him telling U.S. troops abroad, and we're not sure where, he was abroad last week in a couple different countries, saying, let's hold the line until our country learns to respect people.

You have some of Trump's top Cabinet officials essentially taking a giant step back from the president in the wake of Charlottesville and it raises the question of whether, if they are going to speak out publicly, they are considering leaving his administration.

BERMAN: And Amber, while I have you, your paper has a report that came out overnight that under different circumstances might be getting more attention. It has to do with the Trump Corporation's desire and maybe even planned discussions to build on property in Moscow while he was running for president. This was news.

PHILLIPS: Yes. This happened in late 2015 to -- the deal fell through according to this report in early 2016. And I think this is just as significant as all the other Russia ties from a political perspective. We're learning that the Trump administration or excuse me, that the Trump campaign had during the campaign itself.

The reason being that as U.S. security officials in 2016 were learning that Russia wanted to infiltrate the election, they were absolutely terrified to learn that Russian officials were reaching out to the Trump campaign and in some cases the Trump campaigns were holding meetings with them.

Now you have this extra layer that Trump's own business could potentially make a ton of money by building a version of a Trump Tower in Moscow. That deal fell through. We have no idea if it's connected to the president's continued praise for Vladimir Putin and vice versa, but it absolutely raises the question of a quid pro quo and I guarantee you that Robert Mueller's team is looking at this.

BERMAN: Again the timeframe on that was up until January, 2016. Apparently the deal has fallen through by the time of the first primary. But still information we had not yet known.

Amber Phillips, Ron Brownstein, Salena Zito, thank you so much.

Again, the president headed to Texas tomorrow. We'll be watching to see his reaction to the tragedy unfolding there. [10:40:04] And we are waiting to hear from the Houston mayor right

now, Sylvester Turner, a news conference scheduled any minute now. We will get a sense from the very latest on the ground as that city, that state dealing with pure devastation. Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right. Live pictures right now from Houston on the left. We are expecting a news conference really any minute now from the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, to give us the very latest on what's going on in his city on the right. You can see some of the rescue efforts that have been under way for days now to try to help the people stranded in their homes as the floodwaters continue to rise in some places in that city.

A remarkable effort from state and local officials to help as many people as possible and sometimes not from officials at all, but from people out there just trying to help.

This was Ed Lavandera yesterday right here on CNN.


[10:45:04] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are about to leave this neighborhood. There was a woman who had kind of flagged us down. Her and her two elderly parents were still stuck inside the home. So I'm going to put the mike down. We're going to help them try to get back into the boat so we can get them out of here. So I'm going to put the microphone down while we help them get into the boat.


BERMAN: All right. So many scenes like that around Houston, across Texas. Ed Lavandera helping that elderly man and his wife into that boat.

Ed was traveling with volunteers, people just trying to help.

Joining us now was a man who was driving that boat, Austin Seth helped that man to safety and so many more.

Austin, thank you so much not just for joining us, but thank you for everything that you're doing. Tell us about this rescue.

AUSTIN SETH, VOLUNTEER: OK. Well, first of all, it's my pleasure. And I wasn't the only person out there either. There was a whole fleet of volunteers that showed up yesterday. But that particular couple and daughter that we rescued, we were patrolling a neighborhood actually that I had been through probably five times already. And it just so happened that I came around the corner and I heard someone's voice and, you know, I looked and they were up to their neck in water almost, standing in their doorway, saying, can we get a ride out? And so we managed to pull them in the boat and we got them back to safety. So --

BERMAN: Are you still seeing people out there who need to be rescued as you travel around in your boat?

SETH: So right now I'm actually back home in Lake Jackson and we're preparing for some floods that we're going to be seeing in the next couple of days, probably later tonight and tomorrow. We're going to see a lot of our area flooding. So I haven't made it back up to Dickinson this morning.

From what I could tell yesterday, there were still people out there, but the volunteer efforts were tremendous. I mean, it was awesome. And they got hundreds of boats out there looking for people. And so they pulled, I want to say most of everyone, but I'm not going to say that, you know, they got everyone because I'm sure there's still a few that are stuck in their homes. And you know -- and I hope they will continue to search for them.

BERMAN: You know, it was awesome. I can tell you that from watching it not just yesterday, but today play out again and again. Truly an unbelievable thing that you decided to do.

What made you decide to go out there and help?

SETH: Well, to be honest, my little brother, Nathan, I was out working with some friends yesterday morning. We were helping move stuff for the floods around here and we -- my little brother called me and said hey, you know, Galveston County just posted something on their Facebook saying they need all available boats they can get to come help. And so, you know, after that, it was history. We got in the truck and started driving and got up there and launched on the side of the interstate and went to work. So --

BERMAN: How many -- how many families do you figure, how many people do you figure that you connected with yesterday?

SETH: Oh, man. Well, we personally pulled out I believe four families about 15 or 16 people, and then several of their pets, half a dozen pets or so. And -- but some of the people I was just speaking with who had already made it back to the interstate, to dry ground, the high ground, you know, it was just heartbreaking and seeing some of those homes where there's literally just -- you know, their personal belongings floating down the middle of the street and their cars are floating in their garages and stuff like that. I can't -- you know, it was traumatizing.

BERMAN: Austin Seth, four families in Dickinson and around there that owe you their lives right now, which is a wonderful thing. A wonderful thing that you did and are doing.

So, Austin Seth, we do thank you for your efforts. Appreciate you being with us.

SETH: Not a problem. And, you know, I just hope that someday if I'm ever in the same situation someone else will be there for me. So --

BERMAN: You got some pretty good karma right now, Austin, so I count on it.

SETH: Thank you.

BERMAN: Austin Seth, just one of the people out there trying to help the best they can. City and state and local officials all out there, neighbors helping neighbors. The federal government now with forces on the scene as well. There is so much need.

We're waiting to hear from the Houston mayor to get the very latest from the situation on the ground. Stay with CNN special live coverage and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.


[10:52:15] BERMAN: All right. This is Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, right now, getting ready to speak. He is joined by Art Acevedo, who is the police chief of Houston as well.

Let's listen in.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON, TEXAS: There are several things I want to address this morning in terms of just kind of bringing everyone up to date. I first want to start off by talking about the rescues because that's the number one priority, is getting to the people in the city of Houston who may remain in their homes and stressful situations and we want to get to them today.

That's -- that's our goal is to try to reach everyone today and get them out of stressful situations. And so let me -- I just want to go directly to it this morning because I know everybody is doing a lot of things. This is going to be a very busy day.

And so, Chief, you want to start and give us a report?

CHIEF SAMUEL PENA, EL PASO FIRE DEPARTMENT: Yes. Thank you, Mayor. Good morning, everybody. So the Houston Fire Department to date, in the last 24 hours, we've responded to over 5500 calls for service. Over 4,000 of those calls have been water-related incidents. The Houston Fire Department in cooperation with the police department and our partners in this effort have effected over 290 water rescues in the last -- since midnight last night.

So it's still a very dangerous situation out there. We're expecting more rain. We're expecting to really the demand for our services is going to increase. We still have pending calls that we are trying to get to. We do have resources on scene now, state and federal resources. We have Texas Task Force One. We also have FEMA on board. We have 350 additional personnel and we are expecting another 350 in the next 24 to 48 hours, which will really assist our ability and change our response profile to be able to meet the demand.

We are asking the public, again, the roads are dangerous. Stay out of the roads if you don't need to be out driving or walking around. It's very difficult to assess the road conditions. Just a little bit of water covering the roads, we don't know what impact the rain has had. And washing away the roads that causes a lot of hazards.

So please, if you don't have to be on the road, and we recommend that you stay indoors, that's going to be the safest thing to do. Call 911 if you need assistance, OK? 311 is another venue if you can't get through. What we recommend is that when you call 911, stay on the line. Don't hang up because that just creates more calls, it creates more work because our dispatchers are now calling back these numbers. So if you call 911, stay on the line and we will address your issue. Thanks.

[10:55:15] TURNER: So from midnight to where we are today, the fire department has rescued about 290. We fully recognize that there are many other people that are out there in distressful situations and we intend to get to every one of them. Going to have someone specifically talk about 911 in a few minutes but I want to focus on the rescue portion. Chief Acevedo?

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Mayor. The Houston Police Department remains in a tactical posture with all of our officers working a minimum 12-hour shifts. For now one service against our operation period that began at 6:00 p.m. on Friday.

To date we've completed the rescue of 2,000 Houstonians and members of our community. And as of this moment, as of this press conference, we have approximate 185 critical rescue requests that are still pending. Our goal today, with our partners at the fire department and our other partners who are coming in from around the state and country is to complete the rescues of all critical missions today.

And, again, because of the weather and the lighting conditions, we cannot use our boats at night. Most of the boats don't have lights. And so we can't do it. But they should be hot in the water now.

The last thing that I want to mention in terms of the public safety emergency is the looting situation. We've had four people that tried to loot and they were arrested them. After these events, frequently once -- especially once the natural disaster piece of it was after the flood is going on, folks move in from around other states and need another cities and other regions to come in and loot and create problems.

I can tell you that we do have every one of our officers deployed and we have police officers from throughout the state of Texas, they are on their way to actually augment our police force. So we will have plenty of resources. And the one thing you can be assured, that if you try to commit a criminal offense and especially try to take advantage of our citizens that have been victimized enough by our Mother Nature, you can be assured you'll be arrested.

Lastly, a lot of cars, many, many cars have been towed throughout the city. And if you want to know where your car is at, even though I can tell you, it should not be your priority to try to drive somewhere to find your cars, assess your car right now, as the weather emergency continues and the threat from the weather continues, but you can find out if it's actually been towed at findmytowedcar. or call 713-308-8580. That's 713-308-8580.

And lastly, I just want to, on behalf of all of us, express our -- just the way we feel about our community. A lot of people are frustrated. They don't understand why when we sent trucks and we tell you we've seen trucks, we can't get to you, unfortunately those trucks can only go so far and moving water, even those big trucks. And so hopefully today we'll get to the rest of you. Please don't give up on us. And none of us are going to give up so that's our goal for the day, Mayor.

TURNER: Thank you. And the goal is rescue. And that's the major focus for the day. That's my directive is that we want to focus on getting people where they are and getting them out of their homes or whatever their stressful situation may be. And in that regard, we have more assets that we're working with today than we had yesterday and there are more assets that are on the way.

There are some that still are being slowed down because of the streets are impassable. And then at the same time, there are a lot of systems that's coming from outside of the city. I say it again, I want to thank Mayor Martin Walsh out of Boston because he's sending down high water rescue equipment and vehicles and I thank him for that. He's also providing clothes and other things that are needed.

People are going to shelters, I thank him for that as well as some additional assistance. And that's coming from many other mayors as well. But in terms of reaching us, 911, I know there have been a number of observations made about 911. And so I want Joe Laud to come and kind of give us the status report on where we are because we're placing a high priority, making sure that when people call, they're able to reach us and then once they reached us then we need to respond to them -- Joe.

JOE LAUD, HOUSTON EMERGENCY CENTER: Thank you, Mayor. My name is Joe Laud. I'm with the Houston Emergency Center. And as of 9:00 this morning, we received approximately 75,000 calls that we did process as well and we've gotten our queued numbers down to 10 meaning those are the calls that's kind of pending that we do have to hold. That's a huge different from yesterday. There were probably --