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Catastrophic Flooding in Houston; Trump Backlash over Pardon; Search and Rescue in Texas. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:33:30] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Houston is inundated and the situation is only going to get worse today and in the coming days. An additional 15 to 25 inches of rain is expected to fall there by the end of the week. Joining us now is Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush with what he is calling for and how the area is.

George, thank you so much for being here. I know you're in Austin. How's your neck of the woods?

GEORGE P. BUSH, TEXAS LAND COMMISSIONER: Well, in central Texas, we've held up great and currently serving evacuation centers throughout our region to receive folks that will be coming from affected areas along the Gulf Coast and the greater Houston area.

But state leadership right now and the state operations center here in Austin is deploying all of our assets, along with the federal government, partners and county and local officials to make sure that we're protecting life. That's the priority right now. And we're hard at work.

CAMEROTA: And, listen, you worried about this. You know, you obviously have lived in Texas your whole life, or most of your life, and you know what was expected here. And you tried to sound the alarm. You wrote a letter in April. You said this. Hurricane Ike was nearly ten years ago, and little has been done to protect the areas critical infrastructure. Should the Houston and Galveston bay area sustain a similar or even larger storm, the economic damages to the state and country would be catastrophic. We believe we have all the support necessary. What we need is the $15 billion in funds.

Did that happen?

[08:35:03] BUSH: It didn't happen. And, you know, this is going to be a time where we need to focus on life and limb in the greater Houston area, along the Texas Gulf Coast. Over the long term, there will be plenty of time to look at ways in which we can better protect our coast.

But whether you're a Texan or not, this is a critical part of our country. It's a hub for food, fuel and force. This is where a quarter of our state's population resides of 26 million people in the coastal area. So we'll continue to work on this in the long term. But, right now,

the 100 percent -- 110 percent focus is on recuing life.

CAMEROTA: I understand. Look, I know you don't want to point fingers, and that's absolutely the right instinct right now today. But you are calling for a solution. I mean you're looking for this coastal barrier system. Did you sense, from President Trump or from Washington, that you are going to get help in that in the future?

BUSH: Well, we've been in talks with the infrastructure team, with the Army Corps of Engineers for the last several years to begin the process of examining ways in which we can stem storm surge and also look at ways in which we can mitigate flood impact to a state's geography that brings rain from all parts of the state through four major rivers and tributaries through metropolitan areas like Houston, as we're witnessing right now. So that will be an ongoing process.

This administrator long over at FEMA had described, this will a -- probably a generational reconstruction effort. And so, you know, our agency, along with others, will be -- will be a part of laying out that blueprint to make sure that we make -- make sure that this doesn't happen again.

CAMEROTA: As you know, there was a debate on Friday about whether or not Houston should be evacuated under a mandatory or even a partial evacuation. The governor of your state felt one way and the mayor of Houston felt differently. How do you feel?

BUSH: Well, I think, again, there's going to be plenty of time to assess ways in which we could have responded better. For those that have critiqued the way that the evacuation order was not implemented, we have to go back, at least for Texans, to Rita, where we had dozens, if not hundreds of people die on highways waiting to get out. And this was in response to a storm that hit us three weeks after Katrina. And people heeded those, but in a record amount of mandatory evacuations and it resulted in people actually dying on roadways and traffic ways attempting to evacuate.

So to attempt to evacuate a city of 5 million, 6 million people, metropolitan area, it's a daunting task and to do that in a short period of time. Also, this storm was really only about a tropical storm, what, two, three days before it hit landfall as a category four. So, you know, their -- this is a unique storm. It's historic. Truly landmark. And every storm's going to be different in terms of the response.

CAMEROTA: We've heard that the mayor of Houston and the governor have not spoken. Is it your sense that all of the agencies and officials are working together this morning?

BUSH: It is my sense. At the operations center here in Austin, we have a bi-daily brief. And this morning we get reports from the city and from the county and all affected areas, not just Harris County and Huston, though that's been the focus of the attention. And, yes, the communication has been strong. But right now it's about execution of search and rescue. That's where you're seeing these volunteers and the heart of Texans really showing themselves by looking out for their fellow man. And so we're not going to be able to do it all by ourselves. You know, whether it's at the state, county or local level, it's going to be brother helping brother, neighbor helping neighbor. And in the coming days when we see more precipitation, that's what it's going to take to make sure we save as many lives as possible.

CAMEROTA: And we sure have seen that. The stories of the good Samaritans and neighbor helping neighbor have been really heartening.

George P. Bush, thank you very much for talking with us this morning.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the need will only continue and increase and we will stay on it.

So, in a side story, as Harvey was bearing down, the president created a political storm by pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's accused of multiple discriminatory practices in his enforcement of the law. Trump says Arpaio was just doing his job. Was he? It is the great debate and we have it next.


[08:43:38] CUOMO: The timing matters that Hurricane Harvey bearing down on the Texas coast, a category four storm, at same time we learn that the president was going to pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Did the president use Harvey for political cover? Let's discuss. In fact, let's debate.

We have CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and Republican Arizona State Senator Steve Montenegro.

Ana, what do you think, was this playing politics even though we have a 24 hour news cycle now, you don't get the Friday pass the way you used to, but do you think the pardon was conveniently timed?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, of course it was conveniently timed. Listen, first of all, that same day, he did the -- he signed the ban on transgenders serving in the military, which is incredibly offensive that a guy who's been a continuous draft dodger would ban patriotic, qualified Americans willing to risk their lives from serving. Something he wasn't willing to do, something I wasn't willing to do, just because of their sexual identity. That is offensive. He does that earlier in the afternoon.

Then he does the Arpaio pardon and then we learn that Gorka left the White House. Of course -- or was ushered out of the White House. That's not coincidence. That's him throwing a bone to his base first before announcing something that he knew his base would not like. And, of course, using the context of the hurricane to distract us all. As one of his deputy homeland advisers said yesterday on ABC, nobody's paying attention to Arpaio because there's a hurricane that we are living through.

[08:45:14] CUOMO: Right. NAVARRO: Well, he is damn wrong. There's a lot of people in this country --

CUOMO: Right.

NAVARRO: Not only Latinos, who are incredibly offended by the pardoning of a man who is a racial profiler and a discriminatory racist.

CUOMO: All right, well, we're paying attention to all of it, obviously. And I believe we have a Latino who is not offended by the pardon in the form of lawmaker Montenegro.

What do you think of the pardon of Arpaio?

STEVE MONTENEGRO (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATOR: Well, thank you for having me this morning again.

Listen, what's on display here is just the blatant outrage, the hypocrisy from the left. I mean when Barack Obama, when President Obama was pardoning thugs and when he was pardoning someone like Oscar Lopez Rivera, who's a convicted, unrepentant terrorist, where was the outrage there by the left? When he was pardoning someone like Brandon Manning, somebody that was giving away --

CUOMO: Bradley Manning.

MONTENEGRO: Bradley Manning, excuse me, somebody that was giving away.

CUOMO: Now Chelsea.

MONTENEGRO: Thank you. Someone that was giving away secrets that was compromising national security to our country, where was the outrage there? I mean we're talking about a 75 year old --

CUOMO: But what does that mean about the Arpaio pardon?

MONTENEGRO: Well, we're talking about 70 year old --

CUOMO: You don't justify -- you don't justify Arpaio by saying there were other pardons that we didn't like that you didn't give as much attention. That's called what about-ism.

MONTENEGRO: No, but -- but what I'm saying --

CUOMO: Let's just stick to Arpaio. Was it the right move?

MONTENEGRO: Of course, but what I'm saying is -- what I'm saying is that there's hypocrisy. Look, pardons are something that the presidents in this country have the power to do all the time. We're talking about a 75-year-old man here who has served his country since he was 18 years old, who the best the left can throw at him is a misdemeanor. And even then the way the process was done, the way that the judicial system was used here was incorrect and --

CUOMO: How so? MONTENEGRO: Well, look, we have judges that should have recused

themselves. Judges that had complete bias in this case that shouldn't have been adjudicating in this process. And then when it's time to actually go to trial, they set it up, the Obama administration, the most political administration and judicial administration there has been, makes it so that he can't have a jury trial. Look, I'm confident that if this would have gone to appeal, he would have won this on appeal.

But, again, the hypocrisy of the left -- and then they scream racism, because that's all the liberals and all the left has when it comes to running out of facts.

CUOMO: Well, but -- all right, well, hold on, let's take -- let's take -- let's take that plan --

NAVARRO: May I respond, Chris?

CUOMO: Ana, yes, because the reason that racism is being put into this mix is because that was what the pattern of discrimination disclosed. That's how Arpaio got in trouble was because of what he was doing. So racism wasn't just injected into this. That was the premise of his behavior.

But, Ana, go ahead.

MONTENEGRO: Well, that's because the media makes him out to be.

NAVARRO: May I -- may I respond.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

NAVARRO: Listen, you know, those are nice talking points about the left. But I am not the left. I have been a Republican since I came to this country fleeing communism when I was eight years old and Ronald Reagan was president. John McCain, who has spoken strongly against the Arpaio pardon, is not the left. He is a national hero and was the Republican nominee. Your other senator, Jeff Flake, also a Republican from Arizona. People who know the facts and who have been on the ground are not the left.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, who came out and spoke against this pardoning of Arpaio, is not the left. Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen from Miami, a first Latina Republican elected to Congress who have been there for decades, is not the left.

So this thing about the left and the talking points and the what about-isms, they're a very nice, you know, crutch for you to use. And you're entitled to use it.

And let me say this to you. There's going to be a lot of Latinos watching you and listening to you today who are going to say you're a self-loathing Latino who doesn't look at himself in the mirror. I'm going to tell them to stop because the maturity of a community means that we can have diversity of opinion. And if that's your opinion, I differ from it, but I'm not going to call you out on it that way. Now, that being said, this is not about the left.

MONTENEGRO: Look, let me -- let me answer to that, please. Please, let me answer to that.

NAVARRO: This is a judge and there is a lot of Republicans who have spoken out against it.

CUOMO: All right. All right, so, all right, let's put the politics to the side. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

MONTENEGRO: Right, well, but I want to answer --

CUOMO: You can answer, but let me -- let me frame something else for you.

MONTENEGRO: Chris, I do want to answer to this because directly -- this directly went -- this directly went to what I am trying to say, so let me respond to this.

CUOMO: All right, go ahead. Go ahead.

MONTENEGRO: Ana, you -- anybody can say that they're a Republican. Granted you are a Republican. But you're also a liberal. And you can't run away from that. The reality is you're -- you voted for Hillary Clinton. So let's be honest about what we're talking about here. We're talking about a narrative that tries to pin conservatives and Republicans as racists just because we follow the rule of law, just because we want to respect the rule of law.

CUOMO: All right. All right, but here's the thing. Here -- here's the thing.

NAVARRO: Let me ask you, why am I a liberal?

CUOMO: Hold on.

NAVARRO: Why am I a liberal? Because I stand up for my community? Why am I a liberal? Because I want to defend the Dream Act kids? Why am I a liberal? Because I don't forget that I'm an immigrant and that I'm a Hispanic and that I have a Latin accent when I speak English and I want to defend those who get racially profiled by people who would discriminate against us?

MONTENEGRO: No, see, but if you -- but if you look at --

[08:50:01] NAVARRO: Why am I a liberal? Because I -- because I believe in gay rights?

MONTENEGRO: Let's look at the issues that actually matter to --

NAVARRO: Is that what makes me a liberal?

MONTENEGRO: If you want to use the Hispanic community -- if you want to use the Hispanic community, then let's -- NAVARRO: And, yes, I voted for Hillary Clinton because I thought and I think that Donald Trump is unfit. Unfit as president, unfit as a candidate and unfit as a Republican. And I was a Republican when he was a Democrat. And I was a Republican when he was an independent.

MONTENEGRO: But you see -- you see how you lean on the -- you lean on the Hispanic community. If you want to -- if we want to talk about the Hispanic community --

NAVARRO: Well, I don't lean on it. I'm a Hispanic.

MONTENEGRO: Well, I know. So am I. So let's talk --


MONTENEGRO: If you want to talk about what matters to the Hispanic community --

NAVARRO: And you've got all your rights (ph).

MONTENEGRO: What matters to the Hispanic community are jobs. The education for our kids.

CUOMO: Well, wait. Hold on a second. Hold on. Mr. Montenegro, hold on one second.

MONTENEGRO: This is what matters to the Hispanic community.

Yes, sir.

CUOMO: Jobs matter to every community.

MONTENEGRO: That's correct.

CUOMO: Raising wages would be a panacea for many problems in this country. We're waiting to see how the president makes that happen. So that's one issue.

But you have said nothing about the sum and substance of what got Arpaio in trouble. Do you think it's OK to lock at someone like you and say, hmm, you look like you might be Latino. I think I'll check to see if you're an illegal immigrant or not. Are you OK with that practice?

MONTENEGRO: But see, Chris -- OK. So this -- this is -- look, every story -- every story needs a villain. And in this case the media has made a villain. But the reality is --

CUOMO: Talk about the practice.

MONTENEGRO: I am. Let me finish.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

MONTENEGRO: The reality is that you have an 85-year-old man. Look, 33 percent of his employees were Hispanics. Five -- out of five of his top deputies, three of them were Hispanic. He's got -- has a grandchild that's Hispanic and another grandchild that is black (ph). This whole nonsense about racism is something that the left, that liberals use, that folks that can't respect the rule of law --

CUOMO: Well, but then what was the practice about? If you look like an illegal, I'm going to check you for I.D. Does that sound good to you?

MONTENEGRO: You see what I'm saying? You see what I'm saying? When the left -- when liberals are out of talking points, when they are out of facts, they use racism.

CUOMO: Defend the practice.

MONTENEGRO: The reality -- the reality is that --

CUOMO: You're not speaking to the practice.


CUOMO: You haven't said a damn thing about the practice.


CUOMO: The facts that were on the record. Address them.

MONTENEGRO: Chris, you --

NAVARRO: Not to mention that he was doing that, he has been racially profiling way before he was 85 years old.

MONTENEGRO: That's what I'm trying to say. Chris, that's what I'm trying to say. Look, this is -- this is -- again, I answered that. You -- what -- what yours --

CUOMO: You've said nothing about the practice itself. Nothing. You keep saying that it's being made an excuse by the left. Fine, if you want to say that, but justify the practice. So you don't think he did that? You don't -- you don't think the facts on the record or accurate.

MONTENEGRO: And that's -- and -- look, here's the thing. Here's the reality. If you're an American that believes in the rule of law, the left screams racism. If you're an American that believes in capitalism and free markets, the left screams racism. If you are someone that believes in American exceptionalism, the left and liberals scream racism.


MONTENEGRO: Because we're -- why? Because we're trying to make sure that we abide by the rule of law.

CUOMO: That's fine. That's a fine political argument. All I'm saying is --

NAVARRO: OK, Chris, let me respond to -- CUOMO: Hold on. Ana, we have to leave it -- we have to leave it here. But I'm going to state the proposition to the audience just so that they can measure what they've seen. Either you think it's OK to look at somebody and say you look like you may be an undocumented person, I think I'll check you, or you don't.

MONTENEGRO: That's not -- that's not the case. That's incorrect. That's never right.

CUOMO: Those were the facts for the accusation. They can -- they can Google themselves. That's how he got thrown in contempt of court, for refusing to correct those practices.

MONTENEGRO: That is -- well, that's -- that's -- those are accusations. Those are -- Chris, those are never correct. But that -- those are accusations made by liberals and the media. These are accusations made by the media.

CUOMO: They were made by the justice system. They were made by the justice system.

We've got to leave it there.

MONTENEGRO: And by the very --

NAVARRO: And you are such a broken record.

MONTENEGRO: A very political justice system it is.

CUOMO: All right, fine, but it was the justice system. We have one for a reason.

NAVARRO: (speaking in foreign language). You are a broken record.

CUOMO: All right, yes, I --

NAVARRO: (speaking in foreign language).

MONTENEGRO: Thank you for having me on.

CUOMO: All right, Mr. Montenegro, thank you very much. You're always welcome to give us your ideas. Ana, as always, thank you. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, well, the Texas governor is standing by right now. Greg Abbott is deploying another 1,000 National Guard members after already activating 3,000 national and state guard members. The historic flooding is expected to get worse as officials focus on rescuing those who are still at this hour stranded.

And joining us now is Texas Governor Abbott.

Governor Abbott, thank you very much. I know this is such a busy morning for you. Thank you for taking time to update us.

Do you -- can you tell us --

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Of course. My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here.

The numbers are staggering. How many Texans are in shelters this morning?

ABBOTT: Well, of course, the number is rising. And we will evacuate even more. I've heard numbers ranging from 30,000 to 40,000, and that includes people who are evacuees from where the hurricane originally crossed Texas and the Corpus Christi area, but also evacuees from the Houston area. And that number will simply rise even more today.

CAMEROTA: Governor, what are you most worried about this morning?

ABBOTT: Today, of course, it is life and protecting life. You see that the high and rising water in Houston, which will continue, and so we have search and rescue missions that will be conducted throughout the day.

But also, if you see the weather map, you see that east of Houston, over in the Beaumont area, they are getting inundated with the spread of this storm. And so we are having to spread even further our search and rescue and safety missions.

CAMEROTA: Governor, we see how hard hit Houston has been. I man we've see all of the just heart-rending images of citizens, neighbors helping each other, helping to rescue the elderly and the sick and the babies, et cetera, from their homes. Do you think that Houston should have been evacuated?

[08:55:04] ABBOTT: Well, listen, the evacuation issue is something that can't be second guessed at this time because we have to focus our priority on saving lives. And as you mentioned, it's been so heart- warming to see not only the first responders go in there and save lives and rescue people, but Texans helping Texans, which is the way that we always do it. Texans taking a boat out and bringing people to safety. That's what Texans are all about. And those efforts will continue throughout today and tomorrow and the coming days.

CAMEROTA: Look, I know that you don't want to point fingers or you don't want to go backward in time, hindsight is 20/20. But in the interest of moving forward and figuring out the solution to things like this, you know, the mayor of Houston justifies that he didn't evacuate the city because he said that that would have created its own spate of problems. There would have been people stranded on highways. There could have been heat stroke. There could have been people stuck in their cars with more rain. Do you agree with all of those -- that rationale?

ABBOTT: Well, listen, there were obviously concerns, as you pointed out, about the complications of evacuation that when we saw when Hurricane Rita came to the state of Texas. And so it was so difficult to look in hindsight to see, would it have been better to evacuate or not evacuate, which is why we simply aren't focused on it right now. Instead, all of our attention is focused on saving lives.

CAMEROTA: What do you want to hear out of President Trump when he arrives tomorrow?

ABBOTT: Well, first, he has been very gracious and very helpful, he and his team, and my conversations both with the president and his cabinet members and with Brock Long, the FEMA administrator. And what I would like to hear from him is his understanding of the magnitude of the damage that Texas has faced. Because it's not just the Houston area that's been the focus for the past 48 hours, but also the Corpus Christi area where the hurricane first came across the shore of the state of Texas. This is going to be a very long-term project, helping Texas dig out.

Now, the good news is, Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, has already expressed that to me. He understands this is going to be a year or multi-year process. And I assume that the president will be echoing that. And I assume the president will be very concerned about what he sees, about the damage that Texas has suffered.

CAMEROTA: Have you spoken to the mayor of Houston in the past 24 hours?

ABBOTT: Yes. We had a great conversation last night. I spoke to him and asked him, what does he need? And he told me what he need. And that is, he needs more boats and more high-water vehicles. And overnight I was able to assemble and, as we speak now, we're in the process of delivering about 150 more water rescue boats, and about 300 more high-water vehicles to continue this process of removing Texans from these high-water locations and get them to safe ground.

CAMEROTA: Are you, governor, calling on the federal government or the military to help out in more ways in Texas?

ABBOTT: Yes. Through the agreement that we have with FEMA, the federal government will be helping out in a very profound way, in part during this rescue and recovery mission, but also in the build out mission once we begin the clean-up process.

CAMEROTA: So, governor, for the tens of thousands of people who are in the shelters in your state and the thousands more who may be rescued over the next days because, as we've heard, sadly, more rain is coming, what's the future for them? What happens when they go home and their houses are gone?

ABBOTT: Well -- sure. There's a multi-step process here. First is to get them to safe ground, to help them to adjust to what their immediate needs are, which includes food, water and shelter. But there are so many with some health care needs that will be fairly emergent in the way that we address them. Some of these evacuees will be moved to Dallas, where they may host about 5,000. Some will be moved to places like Austin and San Antonio. All of this on a temporary basis until the water recedes. And then we will begin the process of working with FEMA to build out new locations where they can move to.

CAMEROTA: Governor Greg Abbott, you have your work cut out for you. Thank you so much for taking time to be on NEW DAY. And we're praying for you and wishing the best for your state.

ABBOTT: Thank you so much.

CUOMO: All right, and the big message for the morning is Harvey is only getting going. We know that the hurricane itself has passed. It may move up the coast as a tropical storm. But the flooding, that standing water, it won't even crest until later this week. It's going to be a big health concern going forward. We'll stay on this story.

CAMEROTA: And we've heard FEMA say that they plan to be there indefinitely for a long time.

CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: And people are going to need help for a really long time.

CUOMO: They don't even have number of dead or real casualty numbers yet. There have been thousands of rescues. We'll stay on it. CNN has breaking coverage right now. "NEWSROOM" with John Berman.