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Donald Trump on Storm Response: I'm Very Happy With How it's Going; Trump: Storm Response Has Been "Efficient"; Trump: Aid Fund Request will Hopefully be Passed Quickly; Beaumont Families in Desperate Need of Clean Water; Estimated 30,000 Houston Students to Move Schools Temporarily; 53 Public Schools in Houston Sustained Major Damage; President and First Lady Visit Storm Victims in Houston. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hello again, everyone and thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right, we begin this hour in Texas, just a few moments ago, the president spoke at a hurricane Harvey relief center. He gave his thoughts on how the relief efforts are going so far.


DONAL TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch and for the world to watch. It's been beautiful. Have a good time, everybody. I'm going to be doing a little help over there. Say?


TRUMP: They're really happy with what's going on. It's been something -- it's been very well received. And we're signing a lot of documents now to get money into Houston. $7.9 billion, we signed it and now it's going through a very quick -- hopefully quick process.


WHITFIELD: The president also putting smiles on the faces that so desperately need a sign of hope, holding little kids there, embracing, he's been taking selfies, and sitting down with kids in the kids' zone area of the hurricane relief center. And that's just a first stop in this jam packed day for the president and first lady.

Later today, they will greet and sit with Texas congressional delegation members before heading off to Louisiana. And then the two will be meeting with the Louisiana delegation, visit with the National Guard, and with the volunteered group known as the Cajun Navy. The president and Mrs. Trump have a long day ahead. Let's check in with Athena Jones in Houston. So, this was stop one. What's next?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, he's headed to another location that we'll be able to tell you about when he gets there. The reason for that of course is security, but you mentioned the pictures we just saw and the last ones we saw were of him and First Lady Melania Trump handing out food.

According to the pool, it was a meal of hotdogs and chips and the like to the folks there in NRG Center. And you're right, there was a lot of smiles on the faces of the people there being able to interact directly with the president.

And Fred, this is the kind of trip the White House wanted for the president, but they said they could not do that on Tuesday when he first came soon after the storm -- well, in many ways, it was still raining, there was certainly still flooding, but soon after the storm's impact on Tuesday, the president and the White House said that they didn't want to take away emergency resources that could go to search and rescue efforts to support the president's visit.

And so on Tuesday, we saw him meeting with state and local officials touring an emergency operations center, but he didn't have this kind of personal interaction that we're used to seeing from presidents when dealing with a crisis like this.

And Fred, we've been talking a lot about how the president's been eager to show a high level of engagement in this first big test, this first big natural disaster that as we've been saying, it's not only massive affecting millions of people at a very important big city and infrastructure when it comes to energy and oil but also it's going to be an ongoing one.

And this is the sort of thing that adds to this idea of engagement. He has with him several cabinet officials, several cabinet officials traveled with Vice President Mike Pence a couple of days ago when he was here. And so the White House wants to show that they are going to be here for the people of Texas and Louisiana, not just today and tomorrow but until this area can rebuild while acknowledging that it's going to take a long time, but we also heard the president focus a lot on the positive.

He's saying things are going well, the relationships between state and local and federal government officials are going well. The big question though is, you know, will that continue going forward? Fred.

WHITFIELD: Right. Right. And when congress, you know, reconvenes on Tuesday, how will that nearly $8 billion package be considered? Will that relief come right away? All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much. All right. I want to turn now to CNN's Stephanie Elam.

She was inside that building and saw it all happen as it was unfolding because it was a surprise to most of the people at the NRG Stadium that the president would be visiting that relief center.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Fredricka, it was a surprise here at the NRG center that the president was coming there. Some little differences that we notice, but for the most part it was business as usual all morning long. And then we saw the president make his way in first to the kids' zone and play with some children there along with the governor of Texas. We saw them there and then they left and we thought they may be leaving, but they didn't.

They came here, and it was here that he was serving the food that you saw, the pool video that you were able to see a little bit closer than we were able to get.


ELAM: But one woman hat we spoke to actually saying that this took her mind off of things a little bit, the fact that the president did show up here after this week that has just been so tragic and hard for the people here who are still trying to figure out what they're going to do next after Hurricane Harvey.

So people saying it was a nice diversion to see the president come here and spend some time within this evacuation center, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Well, there was a lot of excitement. It was nice to see, you know, because people have had a very tough week, and the days ahead and weeks to come will still be very hard, but it was just nice for a moment to see so many smiles, hearing the squeals and seeing people trying to take all those selfies. All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right. Now, let's go to CNN's Kaylee Hartung in Beaumont, Texas, where there are smiles in a different way because people are receiving food and water after many days after the city's water pumps failed there and so many folks had expressed feeling like they were on an island, you know, and they were wondering when they were going to get some running water, some fresh water. So, Kaylee, what are folks telling you today?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we just heard a round of applause break out behind me as a family walked up and got a hot meal. So much gratitude from the people of Beaumont here to the H-E-B grocery stores as they are providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for people here. One more hour of lunch service here before the crew takes a break to gear up for dinner starting at 5:00 pm.

We're at the H-E-B in Beaumont on the corner of 11th and College Street. These trucks have traveled across Texas this past week. They were offering meals in Victoria, and in Rockport, Houston, now Beaumont. A little bit ago, we had a pretty special moment with a family that we actually met yesterday at a church who was offering water that didn't show up.


MARGARET, HURRICANE HARVEY VICTIM: Disappointing, but we tried to go and get in another line. And by the time we made it there, they ran out there too.

HARTUNG: So did you have any clean water for your children to drink, to brush their teeth, to bathe last night?

MARGARET: The day before, we had gotten a case of water from one of the churches that was giving it away, and that's what we used to kind of clean the boys up and let them brush their teeth and stuff. Yes.

HARTUNG: So how needed are the supplies you have in your hand right now?

MARGARET: A lot. Good, bad, because it's a warm meal and we couldn't hardly cook because of course we -- they shut all the water off in Beaumont. Yes.

HARTUNG: So when I first got here, I met Ruby, who I now know is your mom who said her daughter was on the way. Ruby, how do you describe the emotions you have as the matriarch of this family as you all just try to make it through this difficult time?

RUBY, HURRICANE HARVEY VICTIM: I'm telling you, with all of us working together, we can do it.

MARGARET: We can do it.

RUBY: We could do it. And my emotions are pretty good right now because I got this right here on my side because she tells me, "Everyone -- momma, get up, go do this, go do this." And that helps me because I got four kids in my house. So I'm running for them as long as the Lord give me strength to get up and go and do, that's what I'm going to do.

HARTUNG: What were the emotions like Tuesday morning when you realized the situation you were in that there was no running water?

RUBY: It was -- it was, it was horrible. I just didn't know what to do. So my daughter said, "Momma, come on, let's go get some water and we could work with that." And that's what we did.

HARTUNG: Where'd you get it from? You were telling me a story yesterday about going to a canal.

RUBY: We did. Just to flush the toilets, we went to a canal and filled up a few of the buckets to just flush the toilets, you know, to keep it clean in the house, you know.


HARTUNG: Margaret there told me she thinks she went to 13 different places yesterday as she tried to search for water for her family. But Fred, after I saw her yesterday in a moment when there was no water to be found, I was at a distribution site that I spoke to you from that the city is running near an old high school football stadium here, when I told Margaret about that distribution point at the end of that conversation, she said we are headed to our cars right now to get some clean water there.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness, I'm glad so many got the delivery today. All right, Kaylee Hartung, thanks so much in Beaumont, Texas. So one devastating effect of Harvey is the impact on the school system. CNN has learned that there's an estimated 30,000 students who will need to be temporarily moved to new schools.

I want to bring in Richard Carranza, he's the Houston School District Superintendent. Richard, good to see you. 30,000 students? That is a huge number. How in the world are you going to be able to relocate so many kids?

RICHARD CARRANZA, HOUSTON SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: Well, it's a day by day situation analysis. We have about 300 schools in our portfolio schools, we've completed assessments of about 250 of those campuses. The rest, we're trying to get into and in some cases, we just can't get to because of the water.


CARRANZA: So once we have the full scope of the condition of all of our schools, we'll be able to decide what we're going to do in terms of housing or co-locating students in other buildings. This is a massive undertaking as I'm sure you're aware of. And the last thing we want to do is put students or staff in the facilities that are not safe and conducive to teaching and learning.

WHITFIELD: And then how are you going to get this message out? How, you know -- I mean, for so many families, they're trying to figure out, you know, where they're going to live. Of course they want their kids in school, but communication is tough. How are you going to convey the message?

How do you find these students and families to let them know that school will be opening albeit a little bit late for some school districts but that it will be opening and kids will be relocated?

CARRANZA: Well, we know that one of the best ways of getting students and families to heal is to get back on a routine, so that's why we think opening school is so important. But we have a presence. We have a presence at all of the shelters, we have a presence here at the George R. Brown, we have a presence at NRG, we're registering students so that we know where they are.

We're also reaching out to all of our faculty members and our staff members because they've been negatively impacted as well. We have 31,000 employees in the Houston Independent School District, so we know they've been touched as well. So we're out there making sure that we know who they are and where they are.

More than anything, though, we have an incredibly robust communications system, we are sending text messages to all of our students and all of our families that are registered. We have a Twitter account, we have a Facebook account, we're working hand in glove with all of the media outlets here in Houston. I also have a Twitter account where families can get up to the minute developments, that's HISD underscore superintendent.

So we're trying to reach out in every conceivable way and also be present where some of our students or -- and families are being relocated in the shelters. So far, the messages are getting out. So folks know that September 11th is the first day of school, but we've been always very clear that given the conditions of the buildings that may or may not continue to be the first day of school. Up to this point we think we can still make that that date.

WHITFIELD: And Richard, you mentioned you're there at the NRG Center. Just moments ago, the president of the United States, you know, was all the buzz there and the first lady there with folks taking their selfies with them.

The president having a very optimistic view of things saying things are going very well. What's your point of view on what this does, what this did to the crowd there for the president and the first lady to arrive?

CARRANZA: Well, you know, the community is suffering. This has been an unprecedented event for Houston. So the community is suffering. I just came from a school that I looked at for the physical aspects of the school and driving to the school saw some of our students dragging stuff out of homes that they had just gotten back to that had just come up from the water, and, you know, dragging all their possessions out. I mean, this is a heartbreaking time for Houston.

But in order for that to bring some healing, we're doing some things that we can do as a school district. This year every student, the 218,000 students at HISD were going to get free breakfast, free lunch and free dinner. We've been able to work that out with the agriculture department, both at the state and local level. So it's been literally free food for every one of our students, that's one less thing people have to worry about. We currently, right now as we speak, we have nine of our schools where we are cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner and giving it free to the community because some communities just don't have a way to eat.

We have a massive clothing and supply drive in our sister school districts from across the country are doing school supply drives and clothing drives for our students. Trucks are starting to arrive at our central warehouse full of supplies for our students.

And more than anything when school does start, we're going to have a comprehensive crisis counselling protocol for every one of our students so that students that need to talk because they've gone through this crisis, this traumatic event, will have somebody to support them and they'll be able to talk to.

In addition, Fredricka, our sister school districts from across the country are identifying crisis counselors in their school districts and if and when the need arises, they will come to Houston and help support our very own caregivers, our teachers, and our counselors, and our administrators.

So we're being -- trying to be as thoughtful and proactive as we can. So when students come to school, they find that safe haven in the midst of this tragic event.

WHITFIELD: There has been a lot of trauma. It has been extremely traumatic for so many. All right, Richard Carranza, thank you so much for your time. All the best during all of this and the school year. Appreciate it. All right, so we put together a list of ways that you can help those dealing with the flooding. Just go to



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We're following president Trump's visit to the flood zone in Houston, Texas, there along with the First Lady Melania. They're visiting a storm relief center there where the president praised the recovery.


TRUMP: As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch and for the world to watch. It's been beautiful. Have a good time, everybody. I'm going to be doing a little help over here. Say?


TRUMP: They're really happy with what's going on. It's been something -- it's been very well received. And we're signing a lot of documents now to get money into Houston. $7.9 billion, we signed it and now it's going through a very quick -- hopefully quick process.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me now to discuss all of this, Ben Ferguson who is a CNN political commentator and conservative radio host. Also with me, Mustafa Tameez who is a democratic strategist --


WHITFIELD: -- and a former consultant for the Department of Homeland Security. Good to see you both.


WHITFIELD: All right. Ben, the Texan that you are, how are your families doing eight days later?

FERGUSON: You know, it's tough. I've got two family members that are down in Houston and one of them is partially flooded out and it's going to be a very long recovery, very long road for them. I can tell you for anyone that's listening right now, anything that you can do to get involved with relief efforts, people that are going down there, helping, I mean, you've got 150,000 houses where people are having to rip out furniture, rip out walls, rip out flooring and then have to do it quickly before mold and mildew set in.

It's going to be a tough road. So what I would say to everyone that's listening right now is if you can get involved, whether it's a donation or manpower or a church group, they desperately need your help in Houston right now, and it's going to be weeks and months of help.

They're going to need as much as people can do. It's -- it is catastrophic down there, and you've seen it on TV, but you cannot describe just how incredible this storm was and how much damage it did to families.

WHITFIELD: So the president getting his firsthand look now being in Houston and there he's at the relief center and had some real happy moments, lifting up a little girl there and holding her and taking selfies and all that.

And then the president being asked by a number of people there about how things are going, and he said he's really happy with the way things are going. It's been a wonderful thing. There is a lot of water, but, you know, it is moving out. Most important thing is the relationships between -- with the governor and even the Houston mayor. So his assessment and his very optimistic view, what's your assessment of that?

FERGUSON: Look, I think the president's job is to lift spirits in this situation and also make sure that the federal funds need, the federal relief and the federal assistance come in. What has been really nice about seeing what's happened after Harvey is there have been a lot of Republicans and Democrats in elected office at that local level, congresswoman, congressmen who've been working together, senators like Ted Cruz and others and the president.

And I agree most people on the ground think that so far the government's job, they've done a really good job in response here. It's been all hands on deck, and most people seem to be putting politics aside and working together. And that may be one of the biggest blessings that came out of Hurricane Katrina. We saw the mistakes of miscommunication, we saw the mistakes of people may be putting politics in front of people.

And what you're seeing here is that most people realize, they're going to be judged by how their response is and people aren't going to care if there's an "R" or "D" next to your name and they so far seem to be getting it right, and I think we should celebrate that. I also think things are going so well, yes, because the government seems to be giving people what they need, but honestly, people are coming together.

This is just humanity at its best. You see African-Americans, Asian- Americans, white Americans, no one cares about who you voted for, the color of your skin, everyone's pitching in, helping one another. You see the lines of people just waiting to donate food and diapers and donate mattresses. You see people opening up furniture stores, letting people sleep on their display furniture in their store.

That may be the best part of this entire thing is that so many people have come together and no one cares about politics or the color of your skin, and right now in this country, we needed something like this. This may be the best part that comes out of this.

WHITFIELD: And, Mustafa, do you see this as really exemplifying some real positive outcomes from bipartisan effort, you know, non-political efforts, just, you know, folks coming together?

MUSTAFA TAMEEZ, FORMER CONSULTANT, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Yes, look, I think that Ben's right. Houston is the most diverse city in the nation. And seeing neighbors help each other was critically important. People came from all backs of life and did everything they could to support each other. And then we saw (INAUDIBLE)

WHITFIELD: Oh, that signal's pretty bad with Mustafa, we're going to trying and --


WHITFIELD: OK. Oh, maybe it's getting better. OK. So, Mustafa, do you see that when the president says, you know, he's asking for this nearly $8 billion in immediate Harvey recovery, even though that is a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed Tuesday when congress reconvenes. Do you see that this will be expedited and this kind of initial down payment is likely to happen?

TAMEEZ: Look, I think that this will happen, but more important part is what happens next. Look, as of next week, America starts to move on. The glaring lights of the cameras go away, the news is about something other than Houston. And in the coming weeks and months and possibly years Houston's going to --

WHITFIELD: All right. Looks like we did lose --

TAMEEZ: -- and supporting its recovery and what we hope is that the people won't forget.

FERGUSON: Fredricka?


FERGUSON: Fredricka, let me say this. I think that congress right now, this is one of those opportunities where they can actually simplify government and realize the pain and the hurt on the ground --


FERGUSON: -- have a simple up or down vote, get the funding needed, and keep this on track so that there's no pause, there's no delay. Nothing needs to be attached to this bill, nothing needs to be attached to the funding. We've heard that from congresswoman who was on earlier talking about this needs to be a very simplistic moment in a very complicated congress. And it might actually teach some of these members of congress on what true bipartisanship looks like.

I think the president understands that. I think many in congress understand that and I think that they need to do exactly what the people of Houston have done and that's come together and send all of their support, and that is putting the government support out there for these individuals so that no one has to worry and that everybody gets what they need.

And if every congressman can think about these people right now that you're seeing on the right side of the screen who are helping one another, not caring where they live, who they are, who they voted for, no one asks somebody before they pull them off a roof or out of a house, "Hey, who did you vote for?" Congress, pay attention to this. Get it right and focus on the American people that elected you and put you there.

And I may sound stern, but if anybody can screw this up, it's congress. So they need to get it right and realize this isn't about them or any of their pork barrel projects. This is about American people who voted for a lot of different people and some of them voted for no one at all. This is what their job is, get it right, get it done this week and move on.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Ferguson, Mustafa Tameez, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: All right. And we'll be right back.


[14:31:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Early estimates are that Hurricane Harvey caused a staggering $100 billion in damage and some 100,000 homes are either damaged or destroyed.

Following the massive destruction following Hurricane Katrina some victims faced legal battles that took years to resolve including attempts by FEMA to collect overpayments to claimants.

And joining me now from Cleveland Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor, and from Las Vegas, Richard Herman, a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor.

Good to see both of you.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, Richard, you first, what will likely be the biggest legal headache for these storm survivors?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, Fred, the legal issues are mounting daily. In fact, this --


WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to have to -- we're having a lot of audio problems today. But this is what happens sometimes.

So, Avery, let me pick it up with you. What might be some of the biggest legal problems that a lot of folks are facing?

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, you nailed the point on the amount of damages. We're dealing with billions of dollars. And hundreds of thousands of homeowners, renters, for example, because of the flood you can't make that mortgage payment, you're going to go into default. You can't pay the rent, you're going to wind up in eviction court.

The fact is that there are immediate problems right now. And then in order to deal with the emergency, with the disaster you've got to get those applications filed with FEMA. You've got up to 60 days to do that.

And the wonderful thing that's going on, Fredricka, is that the State Bar of Texas has developed an army of lawyers. And so it could be some lawyer in Nacogdoches but if you've got a problem in Beaumont or you've got a problem in Houston or Orange County, the lawyers are volunteering in addition to some of the wonderful legal services groups like Loan Star and Rio Grande.

People that don't recognize that there are legal issues attached to all this, and in this day of cell phones, you've got to take the photographs. You've got to get the video because ultimately you've got to turn that over to an insurance company. And they're the ones that are going to be making the payoff if you can get that documentation in.

WHITFIELD: OK. And so, Avery, I think we've got Richard on the phone with us now.

So, Richard, how do you see the potential problems, the legal problems for a lot of these victims?

HERMAN: Oh, Fred, the legal problems mount daily in Texas. 20 trillion gallons of rain fell, that's enough to provide water to New York City for the next 50 years. The damage is extensive. People can't get to their homes.


HERMAN: So they can't get to their homes, they're facing either foreclosures or they're facing evictions. They have personal property there that will allow them to enroll their kids in school, get medical coverage. Personal bankruptcies are going to start to be filed here. Landlords who own buildings will not be able to pay their mortgages. 80 percent of the people there don't even have flood insurance.


HERMAN: So FEMA is going to have to step in and claims are going to have to be filed. And they have to be filed within 60 days, Fred. Whether this -- you know, there may be extensions, but 60 days is a hard number to file claims for damages. And lawyers are stepping in. And you know, lawyers get such a bad rap all the time, but you have now legal aid societies stepping up, you have pro bono attorneys stepping up and there's 15 people for free legal work. To help protect them and file their claims.

WHITFIELD: Which is great.

HERMAN: They have to preserve the damage that's there to their homes. They have to hold on, they have to take photos, they have to prepare to file these claims. It's just an absolute mess there. And I guess everybody's just trying to cope and do the best they can.


HERMAN: But it's a very bad situation.

WHITFIELD: And it is -- it is great --

HERMAN: Disaster recovery takes years, Fred. Doesn't happen overnight.

WHITFIELD: It sure does. It sure does. It's so great that there is that kind of legal help that is free and accessible.

[14:35:06] So then, Avery, you file your claim and perhaps you make it within that 60 days, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a check right away. So for people who do have mortgages, you know, have rent but they don't have their source of income right now, they can't pay.

Is there anything preemptively they can do so that it doesn't become a legal challenge down the road that they lose their home potentially, that it goes into foreclosure, that they lose whatever possessions they may have had in an apartment?

FRIEDMAN: Well, that's why you need the lawyers. There is a forbearance process. And you know what, you really need a lawyer. People try to do these things themselves. Sort of like taking your appendix out. Technically you can do it yourself, but you usually go to the doctor. Well, the same with foreclosures and evictions. You've got to get to the lawyers, they can arrange for forbearance.

They can provide for coverage by explaining to the mortgage holder and to the landlord about the processing of these emergency funds. And that's where the lawyers are critical. And I got to tell you, down in southeast Texas, all the way to Orange County, on the Louisiana border, these people are in trouble. They need to contact the State Bar Association of Texas. They have a 1-800 number, they can get help and they can get help now, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. All great advice from our legal best, Avery Friedman, Richard Herman, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it, gentlemen. Thanks for hanging in there, Richard. Sorry about the audio problems but you pulled it through.

HERMAN: I love --

WHITFIELD: You still -- you still pulled it through. Thank you so much.

All right. Still ahead, Congress returns to work next week. And one of the first orders of business, the Trump administration's request for that massive cash infusion for FEMA. Will Washington be able to put politics aside and deliver on the president's promise of quick action to help Hurricane Harvey victims?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. Live pictures right now. This is called the First Church in Houston. You're hearing the cheers, you're seeing all the phones go up because this is now the second stop for the president of the United States and the first lady. They have arrived there. This is their second distribution center that they have there now visiting there in the Houston area. People there receiving food.

This is where they've been able to get comfort now eight days after Hurricane Harvey just wreaked havoc there in south Texas. You see the photographers just adjusting for the light there. It's not your television. But now he's able to open up again and you can see more clearly there all the people there who are very excited.

You see those bottles of water among the things that are being distributed to people there. And of course you can just kind of look in the direction that everyone has positioned. That is the area that the president and the first lady have been arriving. But we don't have a great shot of the president and the first lady thus far. But they're somewhere to the right of the screen.

And of course as soon as we do get a clear shot of the president and get an idea of any kind of interaction between the victims there and the president and first lady, we'll take you back there. So for now we're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.


[14:40:51] WHITFIELD: All right. Live pictures in right now. Here's the entrance of the president of the United States there at First Church, this is in Houston. Taking to the stage there. Microphone now in his hand. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to congratulate everybody that's worked so hard. It's been an incredible five days, six days. This was -- it seems like it's much longer than that, but actually it's going so well that it's going fast in a certain sense. But I want to tell so many of you our faith based and I want to just tell you that tomorrow we have National Prayer Day. And that was an official proclamation.

So we have a very special day. They haven't done that -- Ted, I don't think they've done that for a while in our country. But now we've done it. So tomorrow's a very big day. So go to your church and pray and enjoy the day and so -- and congratulations. We congratulations on that.

I want to thank Ted Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz for working so hard with us.


TRUMP: And Ted doesn't know, but his work is just starting now, right? We have to push that stuff through. But we will. We've signed some very big authorizations last night and we'll get it through.

And, Brock -- come here, Brock, what a job you've done. Huh? What a job. Thank you very much. Thank you.


TRUMP: And the water is disappearing. We have a long way to go, but the water's disappearing. And you look at the neighborhoods and you see it's -- we just rode through this and two days ago, even yesterday they had water and today it's all swept up and cleaned up. And you got a lot of hard-working people, I'll tell you that. A lot of hard working people. So I want to thank everybody for being here. You know Ben Carson. Come here, Ben, the great Ben Carson.


TRUMP: And Elaine Duke. And who likes schools? Because we have the finest person in the world for schools, come here. She just had a full page story today in "The Wall Street Journal" which was actually a very good story. Did you like it? And, David, thank you from the VA, David Shulkin. And most importantly the real boss of the family, right? Come on up here. Come. This is the real boss. Thank you.

I just have to say and I was just telling Ted, you have a great governor and a great first lady of Texas. Special people. They have worked so hard, and the coordination between the federal and the state and the local has been terrific. And we're going to keep it going that way. If anything we'll even get it -- I don't know if it gets better, but we're going to try and make it better. But I just have to say this, the cameras are blazing, I have to say it.

You have a great, great governor. And he's done a fantastic job. So on behalf of Melania and myself I want to thank you, Governor, for everything you've done, and first lady, thank you very much. So nice, so good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for being here.

TRUMP: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And it's really, David, seeing something like has happened here. You know, David has taken the Veterans Administration, the VA, and he's done so many things for the veterans. We've only been here eight months, if you think about it. And they now have choice which is such a big thing. You know, you used to read and for those of you that aren't vets, frankly, and we have a lot of vets in the room right now, but you used to wait in line for nine days, 14 days, Ted knows very well.

Now, Ted, as you know, he has a program of choice where they don't have to do that. They go to a doctor. And we take care of it. But it's faster. It's actually probably in the end it will be less expensive if you think about it. And people that can be fixed up perfectly in a matter of minutes, I mean, in some cases bad, bad things happen to them because they couldn't get to see a doctor.

Now they see their doctor, they see a doctor of their choice, but they go out and they get great medical care quickly, Governor. It's the way you would do it. I know that. And --

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) [14:45:04] TRUMP: And really for years as a civilian, I don't know if I ever said this, I used to sit back and say, I wonder why they don't do this, it's not like it's so complicated, right? I read these horrible stories about great people -- our great veterans standing in a line and waiting for weeks to get to just see a doctor and they have some great doctors in the VA, some really talented doctors. The problem is you just can't -- somebody said thank you. Sounds like -- are you a doctor in the VA? But you see what we're doing.

Thank you, hon, I appreciate that. But -- so we're doing it. And we're really proud of it. And, Ben, you are doing a spectacular job. A really spectacular job. Brought a lot of spirit.

Ben has brought a lot of spirit to HUD, I can tell you that. I know it very well. And Betsy, again, thank you very much. Thank you, everybody. And, Governor, congratulations on doing a real job and now I'll give you another congratulations in about one week because that will be that other.

And then it's a long term. I mean, we're talking about they say two years, three years, I think that, you know, because this is Texas you'll probably do it in six months, I have a feeling.


TRUMP: No. I think for a lot of places maybe it never gets done. I think in your case it will get done very quickly. Thank you, everybody. Again, National Prayer Day tomorrow. And a real honor to be with you all. Thank you, thank you. Thank you, Ted. Thank you, Brock. Thank you.. '


WHITFIELD: All right. The president of the United States there at First Church in Houston. Lots of congratulations. Lots of patting on the back to the governor, the first lady, even Education secretary, and also praising the doctors at the Veterans Administration.

And he's promising as it pertains to Texans and this devastation of Hurricane Harvey he says it will get done, meaning there will be brighter days straight ahead. He says who knows, it could take six months or maybe it's a couple of years. So lots of optimism being expressed by the president there at the church. His second stop now at a hurricane relief center.

All right. So our Athena Jones, White House correspondent traveling with the president, as well as Boris Sanchez at the White House.

So, Athena, let's go to you first because we've seen the president who has tried to comfort people at one location at the Energy Center, and lots of hugs, handing out food. Here mostly words of encouragement.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. I did not hear the very beginning of his remarks, so I don't know how much he got into specifics about what the Houston area and the rest of Texas has been so hit hard -- so hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. I didn't get to hear him get into the specifics of what will be needed and the various things that the government was going to help provide. But we did hear him talk optimistically as he's been doing all along, his belief that this is going -- that the federal and state and local officials are going to continue to work well together.

We heard him praise Senator Cruz and talk a little bit about this huge first installment of aid that he hopes Congress will approve quickly. We heard him hail some of the members of his Cabinet who are with him, like HUD Secretary Ben Carson, VA Secretary Shulkin and the like. And we also heard him talk a little bit about his own administration's accomplishments, particularly at the VA, but totally separate from what's going on here in Houston.

But as you mentioned he's at a church now that is functioning as a distribution center for aid. Just a little while ago he was at a shelter housing several hundred people here in the Houston area. And after this he's expected to go, we understand, back to Ellington Airfield and possibly meet with still more storm survivors as well as members of the Texas delegation.

And just a quick note from the pool who reports that as they traveled from that shelter to this church where they are now, the motorcade, the president's motorcade passed debris in the streets outside of homes, couches, wood panels, rugs, so this is more devastation the president's now been able to see firsthand.

In addition to being able to see some of the flooded zones as Air Force One was landing at Ellington Field several hours ago, we know earlier in the week the president largely avoided these hard hit areas so as not to divert resources away from search and rescue to his visit. Now he's able to come and see firsthand the damage, engage with people on the ground. And he still has another stop in Louisiana, of course -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. And, Boris Sanchez at the White House, what's it going to take? The president speaking very optimistically that this nearly $8 billion relief aid package is now going to be at the desks of Congress when they come back Tuesday. And hope is this is a down payment that will be easily approved.

[14:50:09] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. You actually heard the president say to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas that there's still hard work ahead in reference to passing this package, though there is some momentum behind it. We've not only heard the president but also the vice president and key members of Congress pledge to the people of this ravaged area that this would get done very quickly.

The White House finalizing this request last night. In total it's a $7.85 billion relief aid package. The bulk of that money going to FEMA to their disaster relief fund. Another $400 million headed to the Small Business Administration to help small businesses and homeowners in that area.

The word right now is that the House will get to a vote on this measure before the end of next week. And there could be additional money on the horizon, Fred. As you know, Congress is set to debate on a budget for the next fiscal year before the end of September. The expectation here is that they'll pass a stopgap bill, a CR, continued resolution, that will fund the government through the end of the year.

The White House has asked that if that is the case, they approve another $6.7 billion for Harvey relief. At least through the end of 2017. There are also a lot of questions about whether or not this aid package might be tied to a debt ceiling hike. As you know, Congress set to debate a debt ceiling hike before the end of the month as well. So a very busy period for Congress. They have a lot to get done in a very short amount of time. And Harvey relief is right at the top of that -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, Athena Jones, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right. One more time back to Houston there and the president exiting the First Church there. Perhaps he's going to interact with a lot of the volunteers likely who are handing out the ones -- handing out water and supplies there. I see some handshakes. He gave a lot of thanks inside to the governor and first lady. Let's see if we can listen in.

TRUMP: Hey, can you handle this? Have a good time. Thank you, man. Appreciate it. Thank you, man. I'll put this back here for you.


TRUMP: OK. You got it.

WHITFIELD: All right. Putting the president to work there as he loads this truck.

TRUMP: You got it? OK, fellas. You're all set. Beautiful. It's good exercise.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good exercise says the president really pitching in. Athena Jones back with us now. So he is now volunteering and then finding out what it is to volunteer there to hand out some of the supplies at least for that one truck that pulled up. Oh, here's another vehicle.

So, Athena, what more do we know about this schedule? And how long he might be doing this?

JONES: Not sure how long he'll be doing this. And forgive me for looking down so frequently. I'm trying to keep abreast of the pool notes we're getting. These are the small group of reporters traveling with him. Since I'm not able to watch everything he's doing. But they say we're going to see the president receive supply boxes, I believe that's what we just had on the screen. I'm not sure how long he's going to be there, but he is set to then go back -- he's set to go back to Ellington Airfield in order to meet with possibly still more storm survivors, at least that was on the original schedule.

And then also to meet with members of the Texas delegation as they prepare to help Congress push through this first trench of aid we've been talking about, some $8 billion in aid to help the victims of this storm recover. And then he'll take off for Lake Charles for more meetings with volunteers and those affected. So -- but these are the kinds of pictures, seeing the president actually get involved in doing some of that volunteer work and earlier at the NRG Center seeing him -- he and Melania put on gloves and hand out some of the food to the people there.

[14:55:07] This is the sort of thing that a lot of folks want to see from a president in a tragedy like this. They want to see the president engaging firsthand with people who are affected. And that's what we're seeing today that we didn't see from the president earlier in the week.

WHITFIELD: Right. And so, Athena, I'm going to take a pause because audio's been pretty good. We've been able to hear him. So let's listen now to what he has to say to this guy.

TRUMP: Loading you up. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make America great.

TRUMP: Thank you, man. I appreciate it. Thank you, man.

WHITFIELD: All right. So far we're seeing some consistency with the items that are being distributed there. Buckets, buckets being used to try to get a lot of water out of the house. We've seen some nice cases of water. And it also looked like at least in the other vehicle perhaps it was food, a few Styrofoam containers of food.

Lots of handshakes to the volunteers, first lady also involved handing out and distributing these items. Lots of smiles, lots of handshakes. This is really uplifting for a lot of people. We've seen it at both locations now. Let's listen to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good. Stop right there. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Use it well.

WHITFIELD: All right. The president there at the First Church, this is in Houston. This has now been the second stop, a distribution center, a relief center, a little bit of everything taking place here. The president and the first lady pitching in, handing out water, food as well as buckets.

Athena Jones traveling with the president also there in Houston. We saw his message inside. It was mostly congratulatory, patting various officials on the back including the governor and first lady there.

And look, another selfie moment. Got to have that.

(CROSSTALK) WHITFIELD: The most casual and cavalier that we have seen the president with his interactions with people. You know, in the heart of, you know, a place hit devastatingly hard but still very uplifting, Athena.

JONES: Absolutely. This is this sort -- I mean, people who are going through this, we've talked about how long it's going to take to recover. We talked about the public health questions. We've talked about the mental health questions and just the rebuilding, the sheer economic impact from the damage of this massive storm. And this is still unfolding disaster. There's still high water in some areas. And so these are people who are under a lot of stress.

And it's an encouraging thing to see the president and first lady take an interest in the individual impacts of this storm. Talking directly to people who have suffered from Hurricane Harvey. And right now encouraging the volunteers who have been helping all along to help these communities begin to recover with whether it's with water or food or other supplies.

I'm hearing from the pool that at one point he told the volunteers what a job you have done. So he is there offering an encouraging word from the various times we've heard him make remarks at the NRG shelter in here, in downtown -- near downtown Houston and then also at this church. He's offered a positive outlook. He's said we're going to continue to work well together with state and local officials. He's praised Texas Governor Greg Abbott. And he's talked about how Texans going to come together.

He even at one point said it's a good thing for the country to see, for the world to see, referring to the unity that we've seen with these communities coming together to help each other. And so this is exactly the kinds of interactions that a lot of folks wanted to see from the president and didn't get to see on Tuesday because he avoided the hard hit areas in order to try to make sure he didn't divert resources. At least that was the White House explanation. So the second trip a lot more human interaction -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones in Houston. Thanks so much.

Folks, we're seeing it right now. It's happening right now live. Thanks so much for being with me as we all witness this together. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more straight ahead. Ana Cabrera picks it up from here -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Fred. We'll continue to monitor these live pictures with the president as he meets with victims of super storm, hurricane then tropical storm Harvey of course. And he is there, you can see helping with some of the first aid and first responders. We saw him earlier meeting with people in shelters, giving kisses and hugs to some of those who have been affected, who have had to evacuate, who have lost everything.