Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Texas Congressman Ted Poe; Hurricane Relief Efforts Continue; Trump Talks Tax Reform, Sends Prayers to Storm Victims. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 30, 2017 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: It's the storm that just won't end.

THE LEAD starts right now.

No mercy. The life-threatening, record-breaking, landscape-altering floodwaters of former Hurricane Harvey dumping a record amount of rain all over again, as moms, dads, pets and babies are pulled from the floodwaters.

President Trump already promising to go back to the disaster zone in Texas.

But what will he do now that Kim Jong-un seemingly called his bluff and is once again threatening to attack a U.S. territory?

Plus, the president pivoting a short time ago, making a pitch for big tax cuts amid questions of his timing and his tone.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in the national lead, Harvey hitting again, on the move east right now. At least 28 people now have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of Harvey. The coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur got pummeled with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours, and it's still coming down.

The mayor of Port Arthur says his entire city is underwater, and that includes a shelter that is now overflowing with more than just people. This is Interstate 10 near Winnie, Texas, just west of Beaumont. On the left is what this stretch of highway looks like on a normal day. And right is the same spot during Harvey, whitecaps on the highway.

Rescues are still under way in the storm's wake across Texas, including heartbreaking photos, the elderly being lifted to safety after their nursing home flooded in Port Arthur. And then from the oldest to the youngest survivors, among some of the people plucked to safety by rescuers, including the New York Air National Guard, a one- month-old baby and a young boy.

I want to start in Beaumont, Texas. This is near the border with Louisiana where Harvey made another landfall, and that's where CNN's Drew Griffin is. Drew, tell us what the conditions are like there.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Just within the last half-hour, the rain has abated a bit, but this emergency situation is far from over.

Port Arthur, Texas, really underwater, and there is a rescue going on, as you mentioned, of a nursing home. Residents, we're told, 70-some, who have been in water for 24 hours, they are being removed along with their nurses right now in an emergency situation down there.

We do have some heartbreaking pictures. But as it has been in Port Arthur, there is just nowhere to put them, several of the shelters there flooded or taking on water as this water continues to drain that way. Just behind me, Brianna, you can see what's left.

This was maybe five foot deeper just early, early this morning. The remnants of the cars are still here. This was the scene also of an emergency that we took part in earlier in the day when a man just decided he was going to cross a parking lot, he thought was a parking lot, and he wound up right into a ravine. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this. Get out, dude. You got a power cord? You got a rope? All right, buddy, come on. Don't go backwards. You all right?

No, ma'am. No, ma'am. We got a car in a ditch. We just pulled a fellow out.


GRIFFIN: Those kinds of scenes are happening all across this county, Jefferson County. And we also just found out there is a potential, they're watching a levee that could breach. It's near Gilbert Lake Estates. They're watching it very closely.

Like I said, Brianna, although the rain seems to have abated and the storm is moving on, the water left behind and draining is creating and continuing to create emergencies all over Southeast Texas -- Brianna.

KEILAR: The disaster very much ongoing there. Drew Griffin, thank you so much for that update.

And joining me now by phone is Congressman Ted Poe of Texas. He is at New Light Christian Center in Humble, Texas.

Sir, thank you for talking to us here on THE LEAD.

Can you just tell us about what you're seeing there as victims come in?

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Well, people are coming in from all over the area. They have been flooded out. So, the shelters, the churches, the city center in Humble, the river

which is north of Humble, San Jacinto River, has caused flooding on both sides. So we're seeing people come in. We're also seeing lots of folks who are not flooded bringing supplies to these shelters.

KEILAR: And I just want to let our viewers know you're actually looking at live pictures coming to us from our affiliate KTRK.

They're just getting people evacuated who have been spending time in water, this whole city there underwater.

Congressman, tell us about rescue efforts, how they're going today, if you have been able to keep tabs on that.


POE: Yes. They're going very well.

We have all of the law enforcement agencies, government agencies, Coast Guard, Army National Guard, the U.S. Army and lots of volunteers who have old-fashioned bass boats going up and down the streets picking up people.

So you got the volunteers are regular citizens, many of whom railroad already flooded themselves and they're helping other people. Everybody is in this together. We see helicopters flying over, looking for people that are still on rooftops, and I think it's going extremely well rescuing people.

KEILAR: Yes. You mentioned that, the bass boats, people who Port Arthur has asked just regular citizens to come out and help with those rescues, so those are ongoing.

Do you have concern that a lot of people are still stranded because of the flooding that those helicopters have been able to really figure out how many people maybe they cannot see who need help?

POE: Well, that may be so.

People, I think, have gotten the word to get on your roof, get outside where you can be seen, get on top of a vehicle, but don't stay inside and certainly don't go to the attic. And that's where people are being found. And even as the waters were being -- as houses were being flooded in the middle of the night, citizens in neighborhoods were going door to door banging on doors, telling their neighbors if they were there to get out of the house, get on the roof.

So I think as much as can be done is being done to let people know be visible so people can rescue you.

KEILAR: What's your biggest concern right now?

POE: Well, there's a lot of concerns, but the biggest concern now immediately is making sure everybody is rescued and then that they are put someplace, that there is a shelter available for them to go to and that they have what they need, clothes and food and necessities. And then we have to get people moved out of these temporary shelters

into a better permanent housing. So that's what we're working on and that's what we see as the biggest need. But, you know, the flooding isn't over yet.

Some parts of the county, Harris County, which is mostly Houston, waters are rising and in other places the waters are going down. When this flooding gets over with, we're going to deal with those issues of taking care of people short-term and long-term.

KEILAR: This is going to move into that long-term that is so important, and do you think that you have all of the funds that you need in Texas?

POE: Well, the state and the local folks are responsible first for all the responsible -- disaster relief funds, and they are -- I think they have spent all of those. There are some funds available already, but I do believe that there will have to be some type of appropriation specifically for Hurricane Harvey for the entire Gulf Coast, wherever it goes.

And so I think that will have to be done when we get back to Congress.

KEILAR: Do you have any concerns that there could be hangups with that?

POE: Well, I'm always skeptical sometimes about legislation, but there shouldn't be.

People should -- I think people get it, that this is a national disaster that affects everybody, and I think there will be appropriations. If it's specific for Harvey, I think that will be successful.

We are -- I am so impressed with other parts of the country. Other members from Boston to California are sending help. They're sending volunteers to come to the area to help, because a lot of these areas have had problems itself. And so that's heartwarming, but I think there will be a consensus to have specific funding for Harvey relief.

KEILAR: All right, we will certainly be keeping our eye on that, Congressman Ted Poe. Thank you so much for giving us an update on what folks there in your district are dealing with.

POE: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And in other parts of Texas and Louisiana, we have seen rescue after rescue play out all day long. Often volunteers are putting their own lives at risk, as we just talked about there, trying to save other people.

CNN's Brian Todd has been on a boat with one team today. We're going to check in with him right after the break.



KEILAR: Welcome back.

The devastation and rescue operations in Texas are still ongoing right now. FEMA says they are still in lifesaving and life-sustaining mode, with some homes expected to be flooded for weeks.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Houston with the very latest.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A volunteer rescue team tosses a line to a man in fast-moving water clinging to some branches. His car was swept away. He and another passenger are rescued after five hours in the water.

Port Arthur is the latest part of Texas to be hit with floods, with rescuers rushing to get to residents as the water rise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We woke up with water in the yard and rising by inches every hour.

TODD: One family used a plastic bag to protect their newborn baby as they were evacuated. The Port Arthur mayor says the entire city is underwater.

Even this shelter in the city flooded overnight. All of its evacuees had to be evacuated again. Across Texas, more than 32,000 are now in shelters. Even this bowling alley has become a refuge for the state's growing number of displaced people. Officials warn the flooding is still worsening toward the east of the state.

There is more to come. The worst is not yet over for Southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned.

TODD: In some parts of Houston, waters are still rising, even after the sun came out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Around 2:00 in the morning, the water started coming in, in the back, and it just slowly started rising.

TODD: Some of the people now being rescued had thought they dodged a bullet.

[16:15:04] DENNIS KITTLER, HOUSTON FLOOD VICTIM: Yesterday afternoon, the sun came out. It receded a little bit. We put everything back that we had put upstairs and then we had a little hurricane party last night until about midnight. And at 1:00, we had a foot of water.

TODD: Volunteers like air boat pilot Mark Malfa and his partner Joe Fairchild are out looking for victims that need help, especially any place where the towel or other distress sign. In spite of the dangers and reports that two rescuers maybe missing.

(on camera): Do you think about the danger out here?


TODD: Why not?

MALFA: Just come out and do it, you know? I drive a boat all the time. I deal with horrible crap on a consistent basis. I'm used to it. I don't think twice. If people need help, come help them.

TODD (voice-over): Air rescues continue as well, including this family in Houston by New York's Air National Guard. And with no helicopter and no boat, this group formed a human chain to save an elderly man in a vehicle that was being swept away near Houston. So far, 8,500 people have been rescued in Houston alone.

LINDSEY SUMMERLIN, HOUSTON FLOOD VICTIM: I never in my life thought this would happen to us. I knew it flooded bad in Houston, but I never thought it would get like this. This is just horrible.

TODD: And the damage in Texas and Louisiana is only growing.

BROCK LONG, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: The cost of this disaster, the economic cost to measure the disaster versus our physical cost as the federal government family, we're not going to know a true cost for that for many, many years to come.


TODD: We're back in the Lakewood Estates region, the Walnut Bend area of Houston, and we're in slightly shallower water because we just dropped off an elderly couple that was rescued by the air boat that we're on. We talked to a lot of residents here about whether they want to come back. Some of them say they have deep ties here and they're going to come back and just play the odds of this ever happening again. Others said they have a very difficult decision to make as to whether to come back to these very heavily flooded neighborhoods -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. Brian Todd in Houston, thank you so much for that report.

Now, President Trump says he's going to return to the devastation in Texas this weekend. But first, he took a moment to talk taxes. How this presidential pivot is being received.

Plus, is there really room for peaceful pressure on North Korea? Yes, if you ask Trump's administration. No, though, if you ask President Trump himself. We're going to talk about what to make of the mixed messages.


[16:21:31] KEILAR: We're back with our politics lead now.

President Trump is trying to turn back to policy today with a speech about tax reform. But as Harvey continues its deadly path up the Gulf Coast, it's dominating the White House's agenda as well.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live in Springfield, Missouri.

And, Jeff, the president had been criticized for not talking enough about the victims of the storm. Did he remedy that today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, an entirely different message today, a message directly to the people of Houston, southern Texas, and Louisiana as well. The president talking directly to these storm victims, something he did not do yesterday. The White House acknowledges that may have been a mistake, but the president today tried to fix that.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump traveled to Missouri today, hoping to kick off his fall agenda. But his tax reform plan and other priorities now overtaken by Hurricane Harvey.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those affected by this storm, we are praying for you, and we are here with you every single step of the way.

ZELENY: A day after visiting Texas, the deadly storm and unprecedented recovery is now the urgent challenge facing the president -- the full scope of the crisis still unclear.

TRUMP: Recovery will be tough. But I have seen the resilience of the American spirit firsthand all over this country.

ZELENY: It's the biggest test yet for how the president and Congress will govern in the wake of the crisis, likely requiring the biggest government aid package on record.

The president is also navigating the front politics of responding to a natural disaster.

TRUMP: Thank you, everybody. What a crowd, what a turnout.

ZELENY: On Tuesday, he did not directly acknowledge the rising death toll in flood-ravaged Houston or victims across south Texas, focusing instead on how great the recovery would be.

After receiving a wave of criticism about a lack of visible empathy, the president made a clear course correction today.

TRUMP: Our thoughts and prayers remain firmly with the citizens and our fellow people. People. Great, great people all affected by this tragedy.

ZELENY: Five years ago, he blasted President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, writing on Twitter: Obama is now standing in a puddle acting like a president. Give me a break.

Now, it is Mr. Trump who must corral Republicans, whose divisions over government aid for sandy victims boiled over again today with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on CNN's "NEW DAY" taking sharp aim at Texas Senator Ted Cruz for voting against it. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Senator Cruz was playing

politics in 2012, trying to make him look like -- himself look like the biggest conservative in the world. And what I said at the time both to him and to everybody else was, if you represent a coastal state, don't do this because your day is going to come and you're going to expect people to help you.

ZELENY: Cruz fired back on FOX News.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I'm sorry that there are politicians who seem really desperate to get their names in the news and are saying whatever they need to do that.

ZELENY: When we caught up with Cruz on Tuesday in Texas, he said the president assured him this aid package, possibly twice Sandy's $50 billion, would quickly go through.

CRUZ: It had a powerful impact on him.

ZELENY: All this as the White House is sending mixed messages amid the new threats from North Korea and its latest missile test over Japan. The president issuing a stern rebuke, raising the specter of military action tweeting, talking is not the answer. Yet Defense Secretary James Mattis striking a softer tone, all but contradicting the president.

[16:25:03] JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're never out of diplomatic solutions. We continue to work together and the minister and I share a responsibility to provide for the protection of our nation, our populations and our interests.


ZELENY: Now, the challenges for North Korea, of course, front and center for the president, Hurricane Harvey as well. But, Brianna, it is the tax reform plan the White House hopes will help jump-start its agenda. It's why the president traveled here.

A few highlights from that plan. It was mainly broad principles, but some specifics. He wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Many Republicans think that is an optimistic, to say the least.

He also wants to simplify the tax code, eliminating loopholes to benefit wealthy taxpayers. Then he called on Congress to put, quote, the politics behind us. He did that, Brianna, and then in the next breath, he called on Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, to vote for his plan. He said if she does not, the voters of Missouri should vote her out of office. That is why he is here in Missouri today trying to push the tax plan -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Right in her backyard.

All right. Jeff Zeleny, in Missouri, thank you.

This week has been a major test for the Trump administration. So, how is he doing? The report card for the week ahead. We'll be talking with our panel next.