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INSIDE POLITICS

Harvey Update from Corpus Christi; Harvey Update from Galveston; Predictions for Hurricane Harvey; Trump Adviser Voices Distress; . Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Jake Tapper. John King is on a well-deserved vacation.

Hurricane Harvey intensifies on its way to the Gulf Coast in what could be the worst storm to hit the continental U.S. in over a decade. President Trump's new FEMA administrator is urging residents of designated areas to flee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Texas is about to have a very significant disaster.

The bottom line message is right now, if people have not heeded the warnings, again, their window to do so is closing. And if they refuse to heed the warning, that's on them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: President Trump just minutes ago tweeted this. Quote, "I have spoken with Governor Abbott of Texas and Louisiana Governor Edwards. Closely monitoring Hurricane Harvey developments and here to assist as needed.

The Trump administration is facing its first natural disaster test. A Senate Republican is warning President Trump to remain focused and avoid the mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina.

Plus, criticism coming from inside the White House. Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser, publically admonishing the Trump administration for comments such as these.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.

And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people. On both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: We'll start in the south. Half of Texas is in a potential disaster zone as Hurricane Harvey is barreling towards the Texas Gulf Coast. NASA captured the image of just how massive this storm is so far. Harvey strengthened this morning to a category two hurricane with winds up to 110 miles per hour. It is only expected to get stronger later this evening.

The National Weather Service is predicting up to 35 inches of rain in some areas. Destructive waves and life-threatening flooding that could reach as high as 12 feet in some places. The storm could also spin off tornadoes across the regions.

The governors of Texas and Louisiana have declared states of emergency and the number of counties and cities along the coasts are under mandatory evacuation orders. Many families have been trying to escape since yesterday. Some have been stuck in traffic for hours.

Meanwhile, ten critically ill infants had to be evacuated from a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. They arrived safely, thankfully, at a Fort Worth hospital this morning.

We have our team in place tracking Hurricane Harvey. Our Nick Valencia is live in Corpus Christi. Ed Lavandera is live for us in Galveston, Texas. Meteorologist Tom Sater is in the CNN Weather Center.

Let's begin with Nick.

What are you seeing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it is, just in the last couple of hours, that things have really started to get interesting. The sustained winds have started to pick up, as has the rain. We've been at the sea wall here in Corpus Christi and we've seen this water rise slowly throughout the day. It was a little while ago where that water was just not as far as it is here. We're seeing about maybe a foot of water increase.

And we're talking to local residents as well, Jake, all morning long. Residents who have chosen not to evacuate.

Martin Mares is one of maybe the last few who was about to evacuate. What kept you here so long?

MARTIN MARES, PREPARING TO EVACUATE: Well, just like -- like I said, I work in Odessa. Take care of my house. Board it down. Get prepared for it. This will be the first time being here in a storm here in Corpus since I lived here. And I just wanted to see the (INAUDIBLE) of the water before I take off north.

VALENCIA: Do you believe the hype at all that weather experts are saying this is going to be a storm, a meteorological event that -- the likes that we've never seen before?

MARES: Well, it's kind of hard to decide right now, but what it seems like -- I mean pretty much probably going to get a lot more rain than wind. I don't know. It's hard to tell right now what's going to actually happen.

VALENCIA: Are you happy with the city's efforts? Some people are saying, why aren't there mandatory evacuations? What do you think?

MARES: I mean you got to be cautious, man. You can't just stay here and wait it out and wait for the worst and at the last minute try to get out (INAUDIBLE). I mean being stuck here is (INAUDIBLE) especially (INAUDIBLE).

VALENCIA: And you were stuck here last time in 2008, is that right, during Hurricane Ike?

MARES: No. I mean, I came down, but we -- the worst was in Houston. I came down and pretty much we didn't get anything. All that rain went up north, Houston. We (INAUDIBLE) didn't get anything here in (INAUDIBLE).

VALENCIA: Well, this may be a different scenario this time. Martin, we wish you the best of luck. Get out of town while you still can.

The congressmen here who represents this district just about 30 minutes ago said this is probably the last hour residents here in Corpus Christi have to get out safely. Otherwise, they're going to be stuck here with the rest of us.

Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much.

Let's go now to Ed Lavandera, who's in Galveston, Texas.

Ed, how is Galveston bracing for the impact?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's a lot of people you see on the roads here. This is the -- the sea front road that has been jam packed with traffic throughout most of the day. People perhaps hitting the roads here for the last-minute preparations, you know, to grocery stores and that sort of thing.

[12:05:12] Jake, here on Galveston Island, we expect to be on the eastern edge of this storm, as we've talked about. It's flooding is really the main concern. We started out the morning here about 30 yards down here, out on to this jetty. You can see the storm surge and how it is already starting to pull, push up here towards the sea wall. So it gives you a sense of how things are changing here.

It hasn't been raining all that much here in Galveston, but the winds have definitely picked up quite a bit. But as we mentioned, flooding is the real main concern between Corpus Christi and where we are here in Galveston. Various communities. Not just on the Gulf Coast, but even inland where that flooding is going to be a major concern. And we know that there are first responders at the county level, city level, and the state level. The state has deployed some 700 National Guard members. And really getting prepared, we're told, for these swift water and high water rescues that they anticipate will have to be performed here in the coming days. So a lot of those teams and those first responding crews pre-positioning themselves, we're told, to get ready for those types of evacuations and those types of rescues that they anticipate that they will have to carry out here in the coming days.

So as much as 25 inches, perhaps even three feet of water in some isolated areas is some of the predictions we're hearing so far. That is an unbelievable amount of rainfall, as this is expected to kind of stall out over this area of southeast Texas. And, Jake, this is already an area that doesn't take much for a lot of these areas to flood. You can talk to people here over and over again and they can rattle off the past few tropical depression, tropical storms that have caused devastating flooding. So a hurricane of this magnitude can be even much worse.

Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thanks.

Meteorologist Tom Sater's in the CNN Atlanta Weather Center tracking Hurricane Harvey.

What can you tell us about the impact of this storm and its path?

TOM SATER, MAS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it still looks like, Jake, it's going to be a strong category three after the midnight hour near Corpus Christi. But I know that many are probably saying, here they go again, overhyping some hurricane, using words such as "catastrophic" or "devastating," uses phrases of "the likes we've never seen."

Let me answer that by sharing a statement that came out this morning from the National Weather Service out of Houston. They used wording in the statement that we haven't seen since Katrina. It said there will be some locations that will be uninhabitable for weeks, if not months. That's catastrophic, but it's not so much focusing on this category three making landfall. It's really about what happens after landfall.

The National Hurricane Center's track takes it as a category three, as mentioned, in the wee hours of the morning. Let's take this track out. Let's take it out about 120 hours. Watch what happens. The model that they use brings it back into the waters, possibly redeveloping, and then throws it up into Houston. That's one model.

So we -- let's base it on all of our models. Let's use these spaghetti plots because they've been in agreement for some time, using the steering current and taking it on land. But a few days ago we noticed, we're losing the dominant steering course. Let's see how these models now shape up to how they looked yesterday, which was a bird's nest. And, believe it or not, it's just another bird's nest.

So there is uncertainty here of where the system goes. Which leads us to certainty that there will be a lot of rainfall. Now, more models today are dropping it back offshore and that's going to be interesting, even sliding them up to the north. One model, Jake, yesterday, last night, we looked at it, it's a GFS, it's an American model. It's a great model. It brought the system in early morning Saturday and spun it around, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, still going, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And kept it in the state of Texas until Saturday.

Now, where will the cutoff be for rain? That's a big question, because San Antonio's on the western flank here. It's possible they could see inundation of 10, 15 inches. But it's also possible they could be right at the cutoff. That is a large area of white that you see here that's 20, 30, 40 inches. Another concern is, a secondary model broadens that area of 20, 30, 35 inches.

Big concern is Houston. Much of Houston floods at two to three inches. Can you imagine 22.5? The resources here, the emergency services are going to be stretched. It's going to be so strapped. They're going to bring in services from other states. They're going to need it. And that's after the system leaves.

And then where does it go? Louisiana. We're already starting to see some tornado warnings. And that's the problem with these feeder bands as they slide in. Do not focus on the eye just right now. It's a broad storm. We may have tornado warnings up towards the Galveston area.

This is going to be a doozy. So it is catastrophic. We can use those words, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Sater, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Fulton, Texas, Mayor Jimmy Kendrick. He's a (INAUDIBLE) of the Aransas County Emergency Management Team. He's going me now live from Rockport, which is one of the cities under mandatory evacuation.

[12:10:07] Mayor Kendrick, thanks so much for joining us.

Are residents in your area listening to evacuation orders and how much time do they have left to leave?

MAYOR JIMMY KENDRICK, FULTON, TEXAS: Well, truthfully, we've got until about probably another two hours before we're going to get hit with some more bands of this storm coming in to us from Harvey. The thing we've really run into is the fact that we did do a mandatory evacuation, but a lot of people just feel like they call it bluff sometimes, you know, like we're calling fox and hounds kind of wall (ph) games.

But we've asked them to leave. We've had about 50 to 60 percent of the community leave. We've got 40 percent still hanging around here that with us is going to try to ride it out. So we've run into problems because we're a peninsula down here. Corpus Christi is across the bridge. They'll shut the bridge down at 55 mile-per-hour winds, which we know will happen. So there's no way out of here and no hospitals here in our community to cover people.

So we have got quite a few ambulances and quite a few volunteers. Both our fire departments are volunteer. So between Mayor Wax of Rockport, and myself, and Judge Mills, county judge for Aransas County, we are sitting on a board and trying to make things happen the right way.

TAPPER: How is your county preparing for the hurricane? What are your biggest concerns right now?

KENDRICK: Well, our biggest concern is people who have medical problems and the elderly that cannot leave. And we've had some shelter in place. We have a reverse 211 number that they give -- we give out that everybody signed up for. So we're tracking those people right now.

But it's going to get to a time here tonight about, you know, between 9:00 and 10:00 that we can't get out anymore. And when that occurs, that's what creates the problem for us in the community because we may -- we'll be part of the problem, not part of the solution, as we call it here. And there will be a point we can't come get them. We can't come help those people when their roof blows off or suddenly things start happening and the water surges and the fear that goes through their eyes.

TAPPER: What's your message to those people who are still in your area, who have not left? What's -- if they're watching right now, what do you want them to hear from you?

KENDRICK: Well, you know, you joke about it, but there's a lot of things in life. I -- sometimes we sit here in the office and say, you know, we wish you'd have put your Social Security Number on your arm if you're going to stay here. Those people who are staying, if you can leave, leave. Leave now. Go somewhere. If you don't, make sure we know you're here so we can come find you after this is over with and check on you. And we're going to go out and search and rescue as soon as this is over with. Our fire departments. We're going to check everybody that we know that stayed behind and we're going to try to find them.

First thing is, this -- nothing's worth your life. And we want to make sure everybody can make it. And we -- that's what we're going to try to do the best as a group.

TAPPER: All right, Mayor Kendrick, we're hoping that people still in their homes listen to you right now. Stay safe. Stay in touch.

KENDRICK: Well, sir, thank you for your blessings and Godspeed that things will work.

TAPPER: I hope so.

Just ahead as we continue to track the hurricane, another top Trump aide is in the middle of a political storm, criticizing his boss publicly and addressing resignation rumors.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:22] TAPPER: Dissent from within. Trump's top economic adviser is sharply criticizing the administration's reaction to violence in Charlottesville. Gary Cohn says the administration can and must do better to condemn bigotry. Cohn is a high-profile member of the Trump team and the former number two man at Goldman Sachs. He told the Financial Times, quote, as a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to 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. As a Jewish-American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting Jews will not replace us to cause this Jew to leave his job.

Cohn went on to say, quote, this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities, unquote.

Cohn also told the Financial Times he had spoken to President Trump privately several times about this issue and that he was not bashful about his feelings.

Let's bring in our panel. CNN's senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, Ryan Lizza with "The New Yorker," CNN's senior congressional reporter Manu Raju, and Mary Katharine Ham with "The Federalist."

This is, Mary Katharine, a high-profile rebuke to this administration. What do you think? What do you make of it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, I think that Cohn is in a position that many people in the Trump administration are in. I think the first paragraph where he says, look, I feel a duty to be in this slot. But Trump does not always make the slot easy to be in and to do that duty serving the country.

And then there's a -- there's a lot of pressure from both sides about how you're handling this kind of thing. Certainly he, as a Jewish man, has to come out and say, look, I don't agree with how the president handled this. It's two weeks after the fact. I have no doubt that he was pushing him from the inside. But this may be a situation where it's like, nice knowing you, Cohn. Like how fast does he leave after he publicly takes on the president? I don't know.

TAPPER: Steve Mnuchin also wrote a letter. He was addressing his fellow Yale alumni and defending the president. He took a completely different tone. He just said -- basically he said, I know what's in the president's heart, and he condemned this bigotry and you guys are all wrong.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. He more defended the president.

It's been interesting to see people within the president's inner circle, how they've dealt with this, because a lot of folks just were taken (ph) aback, privately raising a lot of concerns. You know, we've heard from the chief of staff, John Kelly. He made very clear to his staff that having a mass exodus would not be good for this administration. To put your head down, work. Avoid all the noise that's happening here. And it's that at least seemed to have alleviated some of the concerns internally that the president can do these things, say these things. Perhaps it creates a big distraction. But we still have a job to do. We'll see if that works because the president is marking it awfully hard for those guys.

[12:20:10] TAPPER: Now, Brian, actually at the Tuesday event where the president referred to the people marching with the neo-Nazis saying that some of them were very fine people, Gary Cohn was very directly asked if he agreed with President Trump about whether he viewed some of the people marching with the Klan as fine people. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) some of these people were fine people?

GARY COHN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: We share the president's view that infrastructure is really important to America, that our infrastructure is crumbling. It's underinvested. We can go into that in great detail if that's of interest to you, and that's what we're going to talk about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So he sounds a little bit different two weeks later talking to the Financial Times. But he did have an opportunity to say what was on his mind then in front of everybody in that moment.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes. I mean probably the greatest moment of, wow, if I could have that over again, what I would have said. What's the French expression for that, you know, stairway thoughts?

HAM: (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: (INAUDIBLE).

LIZZA: Exactly. And --

HAM: Clearly familiar with it.

LIZZA: Yes. And, remember, he stood, if I'm not mistaken, he, Mnuchin and Chao all stood next to Trump when he made -- when Trump made the most controversial version of those remarks.

HAM: Yes.

LIZZA: God only knows what he was thinking in the moment.

And, look, as someone who -- I think we in the media, I certainly did, heaped a lot of criticism on Cohn and others for not speaking out, for just leaking anonymously that, oh, I was really upset about that. You have to give him some credit for speaking up forcefully on the record today.

Is it too little, too late? You know, he was in a very difficult situation. We're -- going to work for Donald Trump is -- we are learning at the senior level puts you at excruciating positions. It has put his spokespeople in excruciating positions because they have to defend things that are not true. It has put Jewish-Americans, but not just Jewish because anyone should be offended by what Trump said, in the position of being spokespeople for Jews and others, and having to stand up to your boss. So have to give him a little bit of credit for finally speaking out.

You have to know that this is going to offend Trump, piss Trump off.

TAPPER: Yes.

LIZZA: What does -- what does Trump -- what did Trump do this week?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN REPORTER: Yes.

LIZZA: He went to that rally and re-invented the whole history of these comments. And here's Cohn coming out and saying, no, wait a second, Mr. President, what you said is wrong and I finally -- my conscience tells me I need to condemn it.

HENDERSON: Yes, I --

TAPPER: Nia-Malika, let me just give you some new news here to react to. Our Sara Murray is reporting that a source familiar with the situation said Gary Cohn was actually on the brink of resigning after the president's press conference that Tuesday, the one where he likened white supremacists to the counter protestors in Charlottesville. Obviously there were violent people on both sides. But the protestors that started this whole thing were the Nazis and the Klan spewing hatred. Another source close to Cohn told CNN's Cristina Alesci that Cohn was very upset but he did not seriously consider resigning. So we have different versions of the story.

HENDERSON: Yes, and who knows -- who knows what the truth is and what Gary Cohn actually did. I mean if you look at sort of the visual of that and you talk about them standing by, in some ways they were props, right, for the president there as he stood there and equated protestors to neo-Nazis. And it's almost he has done that again, right?

I mean when Ben Carson and Alvida (ph) King were at that rally in Arizona. I think the president has cover from people from these different groups, with Jewish-Americans, or African-Americans, who essentially give him cover for some of these harsher statements.

I think what's interesting for Gary Cohn is, if this puts him in jeopardy? Because we all know he's been eyeing the Fed chairmanship because Jessica Yellen is probably likely going to be out after --

TAPPER: Janet Yellen.

HENDERSON: Janet Yellen, right.

TAPPER: Jessica Yellen. That would be quite (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Right, used to -- who used to work here, right, right.

TAPPER: That would be something else. HENDERSON: Who is likely going to be out and she has said some controversial or critical things about Trump today. So we'll see if that jeopardizes what is likely what Cohn has been eyeing, this job, and whether or not Trump decides against that.

LIZZA: Has any administration official condemned the president in this harshly on the record?

TAPPER: No.

LIZZA: I'm not --

(CROSS TALK)

HENDERSON: But he -- but he said my administration. He said the administration. He didn't say --

TAPPER: Yes, but he doesn't' mention President Trump. Yes, he blames the administration, not President Trump.

HENDERSON: Yes, he didn't say -- yes, he didn't say Donald Trump.

TAPPER: He didn't criticize President Trump's language specifically.

HENDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: It's clear what he's talking about, but he's not criticizing President Trump specifically.

There is some strong criticism coming today, though, from a Republican -- a Republican Party elder, ordained minister, former Missouri Senator John Danvorth (ph) in a scathing op-ed in "The Washington Post," says that President Trump has corrupted the Republican Party. Quote, now comes Trump, who is exactly what Republicans or not, who is exactly what we have opposed in our 160-year history. We are the party of the union and he is the most divisive president in our history. That hasn't been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace. He compares Trump to the infamous former Alabama governor and opponent of desegregation and the civil rights movement and he calls on Republicans to distance themselves from Trump.

[12:25:06] And you can add this to the collection of voices, former New Hampshire Senator Gordon Humphrey, current Senator Bob Corker. People are really -- some people. Not a majority by any stretch, but some people are really -- Republicans are taking a very strong position on this.

HAM: Right. And this is sort of a wash, rinse, repeat. We've -- like, throughout the primaries, throughout the general election, people have to figure out how close they want to stand to this guy. I have likened it to camping with a grizzly bear. Like, you can think that you understand him and he understands you, but eventually you're going to get mauled by the grizzly bear.

And so this is going to be a dance that continues to go on because it is very hard to be a part of the party where the head of the party, and the president, who won the presidency, duly elected by the American people, to step so far away from him. What does that look like? And this is what they've been having to do for two years.

RAJU: And you see here, it's a lot easier to -- there's a lot of this criticism coming from former members than current members.

HAM: Yes.

RAJU: And the thing that some members are afraid to stick their necks out because they're going to get -- but the center of a twitter storm, like we saw what happened to Bob Corker after his comments and the attacks on Corker. In a lot of ways, that is not going to help Trump advance his agenda. Members do not like when their colleagues are being called out like this.

But it sends a message to other members that if you speak out, Trump is going to come after you. And do you want to be in the centers of the storm?

TAPPER: We're going to take a very quick break. Up next, as the Gulf Coast braces for Hurricane Harvey, the White House is also shifting into natural disaster mode. At least one Republican senator is publically expressing concern that President Trump needs to be more focused on Harvey.

We'll be right back after this.

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