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Trump, First Lady Head to Texas Tomorrow; White House Accused of Using Harvey as Distraction for Controversial News Release Friday Night; Rockport Residents Scramble to Evacuate Ahead of Record Flooding; Governor of Texas Gives Press Conference. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:35] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the breaking news. We are covering the storm, Harvey.

And one of the prominent Texans is reacting to this catastrophic flooding. Former President George W. Bush released a statement. Let me read it for you. In part, he writes, "Laura and I are moved by the heroic work of the first responders and volunteers who are putting themselves at risk to save others. The devastation breaks our hearts. But we are confident that those strong communities will recover and thrive." President Bush also made a donation and urged others to give what they can to help those in the flood zone in need.

President Trump and the first lady will head to the area tomorrow. Soon, the president will likely speak his words about this disaster during his joint news conference with the leader of Finland. But he's already been voicing his thoughts through Twitter. At least 20 messages on this flooding catastrophe, including this one. President Trump tweeting, "Historic rainfall in Houston and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible. Thanks."

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Ahead here of the big trip to Texas, do we know where he'll be going, what he'll be doing tomorrow?

[14:34:51] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, good afternoon. The White House has their eyes very much on the storm as it's evolving. So they have not yet set an exact schedule for where he'll be going. We do expect him to fly to Corpus Christi. Was it the center of the first ring of the hurricane damage from the weekend. And then he is likely to go elsewhere. The city will likely head to Austin to the State Emergency Command Center. All this is fluid and flexible.

But Brooke, we are told that he's not going to Houston. He's not going to fly over Houston. He's not going to visit Houston. Of course, any president here, they certainly have a very fine balancing act between being involved and being in charge of a natural disaster, the first natural disaster of his presidency, but not being in the way. You read the statement earlier from President Bush earlier. Every president, since him, has responded to national disasters. Hurricane Katrina in mind because of his lack of an immediate response there. So this is something that this administration, this president is trying to do different, trying to be deeply involved. But there are questions about whether it is too soon for him to visit, but he is planning to visit Texas tomorrow. But I'm told he'll stay out of the immediate hard-hit areas where, of course, this natural disaster as we have been watching all day is still very much unfolding here. So the White House is keeping an eye on it. The first lady will also be traveling with him tomorrow -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Sure, explain for everyone else, it comes with security, and the issues, and bringing all the rings of people necessary so they don't have to disrupt the rescue efforts underway.

Jeff, stay with me. I want to bring you into a broader conversation here.

As I tell everyone, the White House is being accused of using Harvey as a string of controversial moves all released on Friday night. That is right as the nation watched Harvey just about to make its entrance as a category 4 hurricane. This is what happened. The president pardoned former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, controversial sheriff, convicted for defying a court order to stop racially profiling people there. White House Advisor Sebastian Gorka left. He says he quit. The White House disputes that. And the president signed a directive banning transgender military recruit. All the while, we know all the news outlets were focusing on this hurricane.

So I've got Dana Bash, who is back from vacation, our chief political correspondent.

Good to see you back.


BALDWIN: And Jeff is still with us as well.

Dana, as Jeff is reporting, the president will be in Texas tomorrow. He's been tweeting up a storm from his perch at Camp David. How has he handled this so far in your opinion?

BASH: So far, so good, in that it is the very beginning of something that is a major, major crisis. The first non-manmade crisis of his presidency. As I said earlier, manmade, that meaning the president, so much of the crises we have seen have been from within the walls of the White House. This is nature, and this is the most unpredictable natural disasters that, unfortunately, many presidents, even in recent history have had to deal with. So it is really going to be -- so far, you certainly have the Republican governor and other local officials, many Republicans, saying that the federal government is doing a good job. To be fair, if the Republican governor didn't get what he needed from the federal government, Republican or not, it would be hard to imagine that he wouldn't be screaming from the rooftop, no matter the party.

But I think that the jury is out in terms of the more -- the less tangible kind of leadership, Brooke. Certainly, he's been tweeting. But let's see how he frames things and how he phrases things when he speaks this afternoon. Let's see the way that, you know, he kind of rises to the occasion on the whole question of people seeing this disaster and looking to the commander-in-chief to be the person who tries to rally, help rally support. So far, again, it seems to be going OK, considering. But it's, unfortunately, for the people of Houston and the surrounding areas, is the beginning of this crisis.

BALDWIN: Yes. We mentioned the more controversial news items that got slipped into the ether Friday night.

BASH: Yes.

BALDWIN: Jeff, let me read this quote from the senior editor of "The Atlantic," conservative political commentator, David Frum. He said, "President Trump timed his pardon for when a compulsive TV viewer would require as maximum stealth, for a time when the imperatives of viewership demand non-stop coverage of the dangers and drama of the great storm. Then will come the aftermath, the heart-rendering stories of loss, the harrowing stories of survivorship. Then the storm will pass and the unintelligentic work of rebuilding will commence. And it will be next week, and soon after that back to school-end time for the president to generate through new dramas.

Do you see that as a political critic here, or do you think some of this was deliberate, these political maneuverings on Friday?

[14:40:05] ZELENY: David Frum is no fan or supporter of the president, even though he's a Republican that worked in previous administrations. His criticism should be put in that context.

There's one school of thought that he was definitely trying to bury this news in the natural disaster unfolding on Friday. David Frum's suggesting he was doing that to get maximum exposure so get people the see the Arpaio news. The Arpaio news is that the former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, was pardoned by the president. This is something the president had signaled that he was going to do. So that is something that probably would have come with or without the storm. The timing, might have been related. It's not unusual to put something out on a Friday. In August, we have seen so many staff changes.

But, Brooke, the bigger point here is that this is the first test, as Dana was saying, of him as president, his leadership, but it is also his first time experiencing why some people will need their government. They will need their government in terms of spending bills, in terms of other things, to repair the gulf coast there. And we are still seeing this unfold here. This is going to be a massive crisis. So in terms of rallying the people behind that, this is a period when they need their government. He campaigned on a limited form of government. So this is a different moment for him in the sense that people need FEMA, people need these rescuers here. He's been a blow-up the government and institutions here. This is the time where they are very much need, that's different.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: Just to take that further, it is kind of when I mentioned the idea that this is just the beginning, it's the people need their government and that this whole area is going to need federal financial help. There's just no question about it.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BASH: And we saw from experience about what happened with Katrina and even more recently with Hurricane Sandy. And that there was a fight, a fight inside Republican Party about whether or not the money that the federal government was spending for relief would have to be offset. And it's hard to imagine that fight not happening again. And it's going to happen just as it has in the past, because it is hurricane situation that butts up against budget season in washington. And we're going to see a fight about whether or not it should be paid for, which is probably going to be folded into -- it will be folded into the whole question of whether the government is going to be running or not or shut down. And again, that is another big, big test of the president's leadership, vis-a-vis, how he's going to navigate the federal dollars for all this.

BALDWIN: Right. Well, enjoy a quiet washington. We come back next week, we'll stay tuned to that point.

Dana and Jeff, thank you both so much.

Ahead here on CNN, people in one smaller community just outside of Houston are bracing for a record flooding. They have been told to grab what they can and leave immediately. We'll take you there, next.

And the Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era rules that banned local police from receiving military-grade equipment. Why this is significant.

You're watching CNN.


[14:47:34] BALDWIN: All right. We are back with breaking news out of Texas. We have been reporting one death over the weekend in Rockport, one death over the weekend in Harris County. That number in Harris County is now up to six. We have six suspected flood deaths. This is according to the public information from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

One small town near Houston is desperately trying to evacuate. Authorities have ordered everyone who lives near the Brazos River in Richmond Texas to grab what they can and get out of there. Nearby levies containing waters from the Brazos River could top 56 feet, breaking the record from last year. Rescue crews along with volunteers are searching the potentially deadly waters looking for stranded families, children -- you see being loaded onto rafts and carried away to safety. Make-shift shelters have been set up across the area to help people who just can't escape. A furniture store chain in the area is helping at least 200 people alone seeking shelter.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in Richmond covering this for us.

And, Polo, tell us about some of the evacuations you're seeing.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, some of those evacuations have been very hard to do because of the deteriorating weather conditions here in Texas. I can tell you the winds in the last hour have picked up considerably. The wind again pelting us. It's like, yet again, we're in this storm that we experienced about 48 hours ago when the eye of the hurricane, at the time a hurricane, swept through parts of Victoria. Still, nonetheless, these conditions are making evacuations difficult.

Officials here in Richmond are concerned about the Brazos River. It shattered a record last May when it hit 54 feet. Today, it is expected to hit 58 feet according to the National Weather Service. As a result, there are voluntary and mandatory evacuations along the Brazos River bank, because people live along that bank. I talked to one gentleman who has a home there, who experienced flooding last year. He said you did not have to tell him two times. He quickly packed up and moved out.

What is happening here now, Brooke, people are preparing for what could be the next major flooding event. The county judge here says that he expects an 800-year-flood that will test the levees you just mentioned. And he used the word overpower. He's afraid the river could overpower the levees. That's why, if you live near the Brazos River, you should not be at home anymore.

[14:50:22] BALDWIN: Polo, thank you. Polo Sandoval in Richmond. We'll check back with you.

Coming up, President Trump is set to rollback Obama regulations and to stop police from receiving grenade launchers and armored vehicles and other types of military-style gear. Remember, this in the time after Ferguson? What this change means for our communities across America, next.


[14:55:10] BALDWIN: We are getting in live pictures. Here we go. It looks like they are about ready to roll. The press conference getting lined up for the governor of Texas to brief, of course, concerned Texans who are stuck because of the rising floodwaters in the wake of the hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey. We'll be briefed by the governor of Texas momentarily.

We passed along the breaking news from Harris County, the county that encompasses Houston, six suspected flood-related deaths there.

Oh, do we have him? Eyes on him?

Let's go to Corpus Christi.

GREG ABBOTT, (R), TEXAS GOVERNOR: Thank you all for being here. We had a terrific meeting with local leaders, including the county

judges, mayors, members of Congress, members of the state legislature, Texas House and Senate.

Some intermission music here.


Candidly, I love to pause because I'm feeling, oh, Lord, why is this happening?

But a great exchange learning about what they need and about what Texas and the federal government can do to address their needs. But also focusing on their response. And I got to tell you, the way that the leaders of the coast and the state of Texas responded to this horrific hurricane is immeasurable, courageous and heroic. I'm proud of the way they responded. I'm grateful about the way they were enabled to evacuate so many people and minimize the loss of life. The most important thing we have are our lives. And to be able to get through the storm the way we did, and to save so many lives, is nothing short of remarkable.

In the meeting, the mayor was called away by a call from the president of the United States. And he asked me to pass on to these local leaders his gratitude and how impressed he was with the way they responded to the hurricane.

So thank you all very much for your unparalleled leadership.

A great big round of applause for these great leaders.


ABBOTT: There is a reality that we have to come to grips with. And that is that we are just beginning the process of responding to this storm. We are still involved in the search-and-rescue process. The goal is still protecting and preserving life and rescuing every person that we can find. Our second goal is to ensure that our fellow Texans have access to necessities, food, water, supplies and power.

During our meeting, we were able to get confirmation that power is in the process of being restored in areas that desperately need it. These are the early stages. It still may be a day or two, but -- the responses that are taking place are happening very swiftly. We understand that one of the biggest needs is taking care of the power outages. Without that power, many can't function. So we are pressing forward constantly to make sure that the power is restored.

We also want to ensure that the basics of food and water will be provided to everyone who needs it. We have points of distribution that are set up in every county. And the county judge and leaders in that county will be in charge of all the points of distribution for that county to ensure that the water and food that we are providing will reach every citizen who really needs it.

We also know that there are other needs -- I heard specifically about growing needs for Porta-Potties. I was told to tell you that they will be arriving tomorrow.

We are so proud to see that the water supply for Corpus Christie is either back up and running or shortly will be. I know that TCAQ (ph) worked with Corpus Christie as well as --