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Texas Braces For Life-Threatening Winds, Floods; Storm Strengthens, Churns Toward Texas Coast; FEMA Delivers Relief Supplies To Path Of Storm; Trump Slams GOP Senator Who Questioned "Stability"; WSJ: GOP Congress Should Work Independent Of Trump. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Clarissa Ward in for Kate Bolduan.

Hurricane Harvey, teetering on the verge of a Category 3 storm and growing stronger by the minute. It will likely be the strongest hurricane to slam into the U.S. in a dozen years and it is now just hours from landfall.

The outer bands of the massive storm are already chewing into the Texas coast. Some 17 million people are now under hurricane or tropical storm warnings.

Weather experts say this storm poses three lethal threats. A 12-foot storm surge, that's right, 12-foot, winds greater than 110 miles per hour and a boggling amount of rain, up to 35 inches in some areas.

The storm stalls and triggers catastrophic flooding. A number of coastal counties and cities are now under evacuation orders. Emergency officials saying, with landfall expected late tonight or early tomorrow, the time to flee is quickly running out.

The national hurricane center just released this update. CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater is in the weather center with the details. Tom, what are you learning?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Clarissa, the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center keeps the winds exactly where they were in the last advisory. Teetering on the brink of a Category 3, only needing 1-mile-per-hour to get to that status.

However, the pressure has dropped, many times we see it takes a while for the winds to catch up to that pressure drop. But with the pressure dropping, it's still growing. So, there is no doubt in my mind, we are going to have a Category 3 if not a strong Category 3 at landfall.

Now I know has been wondering are we hyping this? I mean, we are using words like catastrophic and devastation. We are using phrases like -- the likes we have never seen. I know everyone wants to know how strong will it be when it makes landfall and where. The problem is what happens after landfall. This is something of the likes we have never seen. All the computer models have been in agreement. This is what we want to see. We want to see a fairly decent gathering of these models so authorities know where to evacuate, gives us confidence in the forecast.

But we noticed a few days ago, and the concern was, we are losing all dominant steering currents. We want to get the system in and get it out. Watch what happens to all the models. It's a bird's nest.

There's a little difference in today's bird nest than yesterday's bird nest and that is more the models want to make landfall and bring it back offshore where it will intensify or at least keep its intensity and act like a siphon and pick up walls of water and deposit it on all the communities.

Many times what we see is a little bit more of a duration in some of the latter part, we go into the day, and as the days rolled on, we'll see a little bit more significant trailing.

We are starting to see the models move up to the north toward Galveston. So, what we have seen in the last 24 hours quickly for you, is a larger area of white in here. So, again, we are still looking ten plus inches from Austin, San Antonio.

But in white, that's 20, 25, 30 inches. Could we see isolated 35? Yes. The models are in pretty good agreement here, but the heavier monsoon rain, Clarissa, stay more toward the coastline.

He is my problem, though, and I think is a big, big concern. Houston floods with two or three inches across a great part of the city. We are looking at 20 inches in the next five days. This is catastrophic. It is OK. We are not over hyping this. This is going to be a disaster for many, thousands and thousands of people.

WARD: All right. Catastrophic, indeed. All right. Thank you so much, CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater.

Even before the sun came up, the rain started coming down in Galveston. Tropical storm warnings blanket the barrier island and voluntary evacuations are in place in parts of the city.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there with the latest. Ed, what are you seeing? How are people managing to get out? Is anyone staying behind?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Galveston, you can look here, this is the main road that goes along the beach front here. Traffic has been steady throughout the morning here. You can see people are doing their last-minute preparations to get ready for this hurricane.

Here in Galveston, we are probably going to be on the eastern edge of this storm. We are looking back to the Gulf of Mexico there. This is looking toward the hurricane there. You can see how high the surf has gotten. The tide is pretty low at this point, but we are standing on top of the seawall that will protect much of the city that gives ten feet or so. The storm surge could be quite high.

On the far west end of the island, there is a voluntary evacuation order in place. That's more residential. It doesn't have the seawall. Those folks are being urged to consider evacuating that area.

But as we mentioned, it is here where emergency officials in counties around Galveston are really preparing. It doesn't really matter how far inland you go. You go about 30, 40 miles north of here into Houston.

[11:05:10] These are cities and areas that even in tropical storms, not hurricane strength storms, see a great deal of hazardous flooding. So, that flooding concern is one of the main issues that emergency officials here will be dealing with and that they are trying to get people aware of here in the coming days.

As we mentioned, this storm expected to stall out over the region here in Southeast Texas. That, historically, many people around here have seen this over and over again. It doesn't take much of a storm to cause devastating flooding.

Given the size and amount of rain expected to fall, I hear 25 inches, maybe as many as three feet in some isolated areas, that can cause a great deal of problems, potentially deadly problems. That is a great deal of concern here from Corpus Christi all the way to Galveston, Texas -- Clarissa.

WARD: It's 25 inches, just extraordinary. OK. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Within the hour, emergency officials may tell people that if they have not already evacuated, it's too late. Their focus will have to be finding the safest possible shelter.

Federal emergency workers have begun off-loading supplies in the path of the storm. Bottled water and generators will be available in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

Congressman Blake Farenthold represents much of the area now facing the greatest threat. His district stretches along the Texas coast from south of Corpus Christie northward almost to Houston.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. I know how busy today must be. Please give us a sense of how you are preparing?

REPRESENTATIVE BLAKE FARENTHOLD (R), TEXAS: Well, everybody throughout the area who is planning on staying has been in the grocery store stocking up on emergency supplies. Water, in particular, has been difficult to find as are "d" cell batteries. Many people are taken care of, houses boarded up. Those who can leave have left and those of us that are here are here. WARD: What do you say to your constituents who haven't left? At this stage, are you still urging people to leave or do you think that people who haven't left stay put and focus on just safe shelter?

FARENTHOLD: There's not a lot of time left. You probably do have about an hour or so to get out. The winds and rain are already starting to pick up. I'm happy I got my house boarded up yesterday. The winds are getting too high to move those big boards around to board your house. So, the trick is to get prepared and prepared early.

WARD: And of course, we are hearing there's three big factors with Harvey. There's storm surge. There's these winds and there's the risk of flooding. Is there something specifically that impacts your area or that you are most concerned about?

FARENTHOLD: Well, I live in Corpus Christi, which is the southern part of the strike area in the distance. But what's got me concerned overall are some of the forecasts that it may move ashore and stall for several days, which means folks are going to have to make do with the supplies they have on hand.

FEMA has staged tens of thousands of meals -- hundreds of thousands of meals and water up in the Sageen (ph) area, which is about a three- hour drive from here. They are not going to be able to bring it into the affected area until conditions clear.

So, the stalling of the storm and several days of wind and rain really could be a problem for emergency responders and folks who stayed in the area.

WARD: So are FEMA -- are you working closely with FEMA? Are they giving you the resources that you need where you are in the Corpus Christi area?

FARENTHOLD: Well, we've learned a lot of lessons in the federal government from Katrina and some of the storms since. You never can predict everything that's going to happen. Again, the stalling of the storm is a first-time event.

So, FEMA is not going to be able to get in to do disaster relief until the worst of it is over. The preparations too late to do much prep now. We have to ride it out and hope FEMA can get in as soon as possible or actually, we should probably be hoping that we don't need FEMA at all.

But unfortunately, with the strength of the winds and the amount of water, it looks like we are going to need some disaster relief down here.

WARD: And I guess, the last time Texas really saw a major hurricane make landfall was back in 2008 with Hurricane Ike. Do you think the Texans, some of them, have forgotten just how serious a storm of this magnitude can be?

FARENTHOLD: I think the folks who lived here and grew up here know about it. There have been stories through families. My concern is the folks, who have come to Texas in the past ten years.

It's one of the fastest growing states in the country with people leaving California coming to Texas for the business climate. My chief of staff moved here from California. He spent the night securing his house.

[11:10:07] And my question for him as well, which is worse, the earthquakes in California or the hurricanes here. His response was at least we know the hurricanes are coming.

WARD: All right. Congressman Blake Farenthold, thank you so much for taking the time. We will be thinking of you and your constituents throughout the coming hours and days.

Of course, we will have much more coverage of Hurricane Harvey throughout the show, including an interview with a hurricane hunter who has been flying through the storm. Yes, through the storm.

Up next, President Trump attacks another Republican senator on Twitter. Here is what he had to say about Bob Corker, who was once a candidate for secretary of state. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WARD: This morning, as a hurricane threatens millions of Americans, President Trump is unleashing a storm of his own on fellow Republicans.

[11:15:06] One of the targets, the GOP senator who questioned whether the president has the stability to succeed. Trump tweeting, "Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy."

Yesterday, the White House press secretary said she wouldn't even dignify Senator Corker's comments with a response. Just to refresh your memory, here is what he said last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WARD: Joining me now, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, and New York City councilman, Joseph Borelli. Joe, let me start with you. Big hurricane barreling towards Texas, millions of Americans potentially affected.

The president is on Twitter, lashing out at one of his own party, again, not Senator Flake, I should add, but someone who has historically been a big supporter of the president, who was once considered to be a possible secretary of state. Is this a new front in the president's war against his own party? JOSEPH BORELLI, REPUBLICAN COMMENTATOR: Let's start here. The White House was clear about some of the preparations for the storm that they are making. It's not like they are operating in a bubble where the president's Twitter is governing the country.

This has always been about Donald Trump versus sort of the swamp. You are right, Senator Corker was someone who supported the president in the election. I think Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet a couple of weeks ago actually said it best.

He said, "Isn't it strange when people's private comments don't match what they are saying in public." You have the president calling out Bob Corker because clearly Corker is there trying to get his support for re-election.

I would like to see the Republican Party come together, but this president is someone that has an agenda and willing to go into the home turf of people on either side of the aisle that seem to stand in the way of the agenda.

We saw that this week with the Phoenix rally. I don't think it's fair to summarize everything in terms of Trump and the GOP in disarray. We also have the big six meeting in the White House on a tax reform plan that we expect to be in the House of Representatives next week.

WARD: Yes. But whether it's Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Senator Flake, Senator John McCain, there's a long list now of senior Republicans who the president does seem to have a major issue with.

Speaking to that, Ana, I wanted to ask you about "The Wall Street Journal" has an editorial out where they say, you know what? The Republican Party or Congress, rather, just needs to accept and think of the president as being an independent as opposed to thinking of him as being someone from their own party.

And they go on to say, "This doesn't mean joining Democrats as the resistance, but it does mean acting on their own to fulfill their legislative promises with or without the support of Mr. Trump." Ana, I just wanted to get your thoughts on that. What does that even look like?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, Clarissa, if I may take a moment of personal privilege, 25 years ago, we were waking up to the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Miami. I beg my friends in Texas to please heed the warnings.

Let me do what the president is not doing, which is to focus on this hurricane that is about to barrel down on Texas. Evacuate now. Take the warnings. Take them seriously.

Now as to your question on the politics, I think it's actually a very good advice from "The Wall Street Journal." We have seen for the last seven months, Republicans in Congress kowtow to this president, cut him slack.

Defend him even when it's indefensible, and in turn, he criticizes them, treats them like Pinatas, throws them under the bus. He blames them for legislative failures even though he's taken no ownership, and has not gone out there and sold anything to the American people.

So, I just don't understand why Republicans keep standing behind him. I think he is at heart an independent. This is not a guy who has got deep ideological or deep partisan roots.

When I was a Republican, he was a Democrat. When I was a Republican, he was an independent. Now, he's a Republican. He has been everything there is under the sun. He is not rooted in ideology. He is not rooted in philosophy.

He is, you know, the art of the deal, the art of the dodge, the art of the zigzag. So, I think Republicans need to realize, seven months have gone by. He is not going to have your back. You have to be a co-equal branch of government.

You cannot stand by and allow some of the nonsensical things he says to go by unanswered and Republicans have to behave like Republicans and be the ones that adhere to the policy, and the philosophy and the values because this president will not.

WARD: OK, I can see you want to respond to that just quickly.

BORELLI: I'm glad Ana is acknowledging her own history with the Republican Party, but that's a separate argument.

[11:20:06] NAVARRO: Yes. I have been a Republican since I was 8 years old. Donald Trump has been for five years. I have been a Republican since I was 8.

BORELLI: Anyway, that said, I actually agree with Ana on one occasion here because she is right. Congress is a Republican Congress. They should be out there doing their agenda.

WARD: Right.

BORELLI: President Trump has nearly an identical agenda as the Republican Congress, and yet we saw that it wasn't the president essentially who came up short delivering votes on crucial items that the party has run for eight years or seven years on.

WARD: OK. I just want to move to another topic because there are so many things to discuss today. Gary Cohn, treasury secretary, writing in the "Financial Times" today. I just want to read some of this out.

"I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position. As a patriotic American, I'm reluctant to leave my post as director of the National Economic Council because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to my work on behalf of the American people.

But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks. Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK." What do you make of this? Did it come quickly enough? Why are we hearing this well over a week after Charlottesville?

BORELLI: I think -- I first I commend Gary Cohn for being unambiguous about his denunciation of Nazis, KKK, white supremacists like we all should and like the president did whether people say he did or didn't or we can argue over the time line all day.

I think the even more poignant piece was when he said people pressured him as a Jewish person to leave the administration. But his response was when I heard Nazi's saying, Jews, we will replace you or whatever they were saying.

He thought as a Jewish person, I am better to stay here in the White House in a place of power and try to move the president's agenda and -- and be the one to come out and say things like that.

WARD: All right. But Ana, do you think it was enough?

NAVARRO: Listen, we heard from the get go about rumblings that Gary Cohn was very unhappy. Remember, Gary Cohn was standing behind Trump when he had the press conference last week. Gary Cohn, Elaine Chao, Steve Mnuchin were standing all behind him.

I think it's a very difficult question. Anybody who is in the cabinet, anybody who is serving in the White House, anybody who accepted an ambassadorship from Donald Trump has to look at themselves in the mirror and question, do you want to be associated with this presidency.

Is this what you want to do? It is a difficult balance. Do I want to serve my country and try to make this insanity better or be no part of it and send a message by withdrawing and quitting and saying I cannot be part of this insanity --

WARD: Ana Navarro, it is a difficult question. I'm sorry, we have to end it there. Lots more to discuss. Thank you both. Ana Navarro, Joseph Borelli, thank you so much for being with us.

Coming up next, Hurricane Harvey is just hours from landfall. We'll go live to our reporter in the path of the storm.

Plus, we'll take a look at the devastating effect a hurricane could have on oil rigs and refineries in the path of the storm. That's coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:32]

WARD: We are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Harvey as it grows stronger and churns towards the Texas coast. It's expected to be a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall late tonight or early tomorrow. That would make it the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in a dozen years.

But, the danger will only grow in the coming days. Forecasters say the storm will stall over Texas for days and dump a staggering amount of rain, as much as three feet expected in some areas.

We just got a look at preparations for Hurricane Harvey on the ground. Take a look at this view from the air. Right in the eye of the storm. A NOAA hurricane aircraft flew into the monster storm this morning. This is the view from the flight deck.

You can see for yourself how turbulent it is. That's literally my worst nightmare. Here is a look outside. Visibility not so great. NOAA meteorologist and flight director, Ian Sears, has been on many such flights as part of the hurricane hunters. He wasn't on the flight this morning.

This is video of him on a flight during a different storm. He joins us now. Ian, I have to ask you, what is it like to fly into the eye of a storm like that? I can't imagine why anyone would do this.

IAN SEARS, NOAA FLIGHT METEOROLOGIST: It is quite an amazing story to point. You are flying through and you are seeing all the rain bands and the heavy precipitation on radar and then you just kind of hold on as you are punching through that eyewall.

At times, you are absolutely right, it is turbulent and you can get bounced around pretty good. We can provide the best information we can to National Hurricane Center as to exactly where the storm is.

We have to get right into that eyewall to tell you how strong it is and to see how big it is and help the hurricane center find out where it is going to go, how strong is it going to be when it gets there and what are the impacts when it arrives?

WARD: What have you discovered so far about Hurricane Harvey?

SEARS: Hurricane Harvey is definitely a dangerous storm headed for the Texas coast. As you mentioned, the real big threat with this one is the flooding from merely three feet of rain that's forecast in some areas, and also the storm surge.

So, those are probably the two biggest hazards people in the path of Hurricane Harvey are facing. Yes, there's some wind to go with it as well, and that's going to be in an area of swath. So, folks who are in the path --