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Trump & First Lady Meet with Harvey Flood Victims in Houston; What's Next for Hurricane Victims; Interview with Texas Rep. Al Green; Trump & First Lady Meet with Harvey Flood Victims in Houston; Beaumont Still Without Running Water after Pump Failure; Trump Signs $8 Billion Texas Relief Package, Not Up to Congress; Pro Sports Back in Action in Houston. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 2, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark, thanks so much. All the best to you --
KEN CLARK, GALVESTON COUNTY COMMISSIONHER: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: -- the constituents there, everyone in Galveston County.
Thanks so much.
CLARK: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: We've got more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, and it all starts right now.
Hello, again, everyone. Thanks for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. I want to welcome to you are viewers in the U.S. and around the world.
We begin this hour with the president of the United States and the first lady in Texas. They landed in Houston just moments ago. They have a jam-packed day there in Texas. The two will visit a Hurricane Harvey relief center and meet with storm victims. Then they will greet Texas congressional delegation members before heading to Louisiana. Later on today, President Trump and Melania Trump will be meeting with a Louisiana delegation, visit with the National Guard and with the volunteer group known as the Cajun Navy, who carried out a number of rescues there in Texas and Louisiana.
Our reporters are on the ground covering the story from all angles.
Let's begin with Athena Jones, White House correspondent, from Houston.
Athena, what's on the agenda for the president? Have they arrived at the first location to meet first hand with victims?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. We want to update you on a shift in the schedule. The president had been set to meet with some of the survivors of the storm at Ellington Field then head to the Hurricane Harvey relief center. That's been a bit in reversed. He and the first lady are now heading to that Harvey relief center in an undisclosed part of the city where we expect him to believe able to talk to people who were directly impacted.
We're told he'll speak with volunteers who have been helping out the people impacted so able to hear their stories and share some of the concerns he has and the promises he's made in terms of the federal government's lasting response.
The president just tweeted. He's been tweeting a bit about this storm. He tweeted before taking off from Washington. He tweeted a few minutes ago a video of his arrival. And he repeated promise we've heard him state over and over and we've heard from Vice President Pence, which is that the federal government will be with the people affected by Harvey today, tomorrow, and every day until this region can rebuild.
I also should mention, according to the press pool, that small group of reporters that traveled with the president on Air Force One from Washington, the president was able to see some of the flooding as they landed at Ellington Field. There were some photos I think you can put on the screen taken from around about 10,000 feet where you can see clearly some of the flooding in that affected area.
So this trip is going to be quite different from the trip the president took on tuesday when he visited Corpus Christi and Austin and met with state and local officials and toured an emergency operations center and gave some cheerleader-in-chief sounding remarks about how Texas was going to come back stronger. But he didn't have any interaction with individuals impacted by this massive and ongoing disaster. That is what we're going the see him get a chance here today -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: This is a very different visit than the one earlier in the week in Texas. This is much more hands on, a lot more personal, isn't it?
JONES: Absolutely. What's interesting is there's a point of comparison. Some felt the president didn't show a lot of empathy, didn't talk about the human toll in his trip on tuesday. Just a couple days ago, we saw a very different visit from Vice President Mike Pence, who seemed to fulfill that role of comforter pretty handily. He prayed with his wife and Texas Governor Greg Abbott at a church in Rockport. We saw him clearing debris and hugging people. We'll see if we see some of that from the president -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: Athena Jones, thank you so much, in Houston. Keep us posted.
Soon, as Athena mentioned, the president and first lady will be meeting with hurricane victims and, later on this hour, we'll be able to show perhaps some of those images at the hurricane relief center in Houston.
As tens of thousands of people return to their homes to assess the damage, Houston's mayor says his city is open for business. We saw that he is on the agenda to have a little more time with the president while he's there, along with the governor you saw on the tarmac. Throughout neighborhoods, small signs of recovery are beginning to
emerge. With fewer people in shelters and power now being restored in some areas, many residents are wondering what could be next.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is live for us in Houston.
Stephanie, what are you learning from people about what is next for them?
[13:04:50] STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you what's next here is that the president is now just arriving to this evacuation center. I'm looking off camera because I'm trying to determine if he's coming in from this door or another door. We understand he's coming to this evacuation center to meet with some of the people who have been deeply affected by Hurricane Harvey. We are seeing the vehicles now arriving and he's now making their way in.
There are over some 1,700 people that are still here in this evacuation center. At its height, there were some over 4,000 people that have made their way through here. The numbers have been going down, but coming back up some, and that is because they're consolidating from other evacuation centers that may have been other businesses or maybe a place of worship or a school. As those businesses are starting to make their way back to normalcy, some of those people are being brought here. We are seeing the numbers go up a bit.
But we are now seeing here, though, right now, Fred, people starting to line up and prepare for the arrival of the president. I think press corps is make their way in that may be traveling with the president. That's what's happening here right now.
WHITFIELD: Stephanie, The president at the NRG Stadium will learn and see that there are a lot of things going on there, not only people taking refuge there, sleeping there, getting food there, getting legal assistance, it is really an all-purpose center for the victims.
ELAM: No doubt. That's definitely the case. Hurricanes, it's a way of life down here, maybe not as tragic and devastating as we've seen, but definitely a way of life here in Houston and Louisiana. So they have learned from each one what people need to do and how they need to be prepared. That is why they're make sure they get assistance from FEMA, who is here on site, and that they can find access to computers to look at how they can get their life back on track, and how they can access the data they need to, the paperwork to get to all of that, while, at the same time, making sure their families are together until they figure out their next steps are and where they're going go.
WHITFIELD: Stephanie, what have you seen in people there in terms of, you know, their physical demeanor, what they're expressing, whether it be to you or perhaps to volunteers and staff people who are working there, what have they been expressing about their overall experience and how they're enduring and handling everything?
ELAM: Here, they want to allow the people who have survived this storm to have their privacy. We can't go in there with our cameras of where they are. But we did get to walk through there before. I can tell you that they are working with a number of volunteers. Some of these volunteers are creating bonds with some of these families. It is very well organized on the other side of this wall. They have it sectioned off very clearly what's happening where. They had it sectioned off for families, for single women, for single men. There's a place for food, a place for where you can go and talk to FEMA, where you can go and talk to lawyers, immigration lawyers. It's all very clearly sectioned off. And they make announcements often to help people figure out where they need to go, do what they need to do. It's overwhelming losing your house and your family and also in a traumatic storm so there are people here to coach and work with them. There's even mental health people on site. All these lessons they've learned from other storms and natural disasters, they or incorporating them here to help these people get back on their feet perhaps more quickly, even though we know it's a long road ahead.
WHITFIELD: It's a long road.
Stephanie Elam, we'll check back with you again. The president and first lady by way of your firsthand account. We also know pool reporters and cameras are there, too, both arriving at the NRG Stadium to meet potentially with victims and see this incredible coordination, to try to offer assistance, mental health, just basic necessities, and even some guidance on what's next for many impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Thanks to much, Stephanie. We'll check back with you.
I want to bring in Congressman Al Green, a Democrat, whose district covers much of southwestern Houston.
Good to see you, Congressman.
The president there arriving in your town at the NRG center to meet firsthand and see firsthand the devastation, how people are coping, how so many people have come together.
Yesterday, on our air, you expressed you wanted to see more accessibility to the president for the congressional delegation, city leaders. Has there been any movement the that kind of interaction with the president thus far?
REP. AL GREEN, (D), TEXAS: Absolutely. Mayor Turner is with him, as you know. A part of Houston is in my congressional district. I met yesterday with --
WHITFIELD: Sorry to interrupt you, but as we're talking, the president is now walking into the NRG stadium. These pictures from our pool cameras, he and Melania. We see him shake hands with people, perhaps some volunteers, perhaps some are Harvey victims, but everyone is in this boat together.
Continue your thoughts. Sorry to interrupt you, as we look at these live images. [13:10:18] GREEN: It's quite all right. I'm honored to know that
the president is attending an event at the NRG.
As I was saying, I met with the FEMA administrator yesterday. We had a great conversation and we're improving our ability to communicate with each other. It's important we be able to do so because there will be things that will be unexpected that will occur and we need to get those to top as quickly as possible. Yes, the lines have greatly improved.
WHITFIELD: This nearly $8 billion relief package the president is advocating and Congress will begin tackling on tuesday when they get back, do you believe this is going to be an uphill battle? It is a down payment, is how the White House is putting it, but will this be an uphill battle to try and get these relief funds released quickly and to that tune?
GREEN: I see it as good-faith down payment as well. Talked to many of my colleagues and they all seem very positive about this. They believe that this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that will require a once-in-a-lifetime effort, if you will. We've really got to put our shoulders to the wheel, and we've agreed to do so. There will be a meeting soon with the congressional delegation, led by the Senators, and I plan to be a part of this. We want to show as much unity as possible.
WHITFIELD: What are you hearing from your constituents in terms of their immediate needs, their frustrations, what they're hoping in their days of recovery?
GREEN: I was walking through the very center that the president is in currently, yesterday. And someone yelled out to me that he needed some help because he was homeless. Homeless people are not falling through cracks, but they are close to it, because FEMA helps people who have had a place to live prior to the disaster. The homeless people are still in that sort of twilight zone where they have to acquire their assistance from agencies that deal with the homeless. So we have to make sure we beef up the support to these agencies that help homeless people because, after the disaster is over, they, too, have to have a place go.
WHITFIELD: Yes. You know, people don't know what to do. If anyone's been through a natural disaster, I mean, it's the shock. You know, you're uncomfortable on many levels. I mean, you have been taken out of everything you know, and you're not really sure where to turn next. Even just talking to, you know, a legal assistant earlier, who talked about how they've got attorneys, they've got legal guidance right there for people because they don't know what to do.
It's also very easy to get lost. I spoke with a relative who lives in Beaumont and she talked about the feeling of isolation and the feeling like they are on an island, not having the resources that you usually have.
So what do you say, what can you -- we're seeing aery precious image of the president there picking up a little girl there at the NRG Stadium there. You know, what kind of comforts do you offer to people who do feel like they're on an island, they feel like they're at a loss right now?
GREEN: Well, we want to first make sure that people know that we are doing as best as we can to understand, notwithstanding fact that we are not in their shoes. We want to position ourselves so that we understand. This is important because people want to know that you really do care what's happening to them, given that they're experiencing something they have never experienced before in their lives, and never thought they would experience.
After getting people to understand that you have made yourself available to them and you really want to help them, then they want to know, can you help me with my job? Many people are going to be unemployed as a result of this and the they will need assistance with a job. The job is the thing people build their lives around. They want to make sure they have employment benefits, and there are benefits around to people.
And they want to know when will I get back into my home. The home is the place where everything that they own is usually stationed. And they want to get back to their familiar environment. So we have to be able to assure them that we're going to do all that we can to make sure that their state of normalcy is returned to them as rapidly as possible.
WHITFIELD: I don't know, Congressman Al Green, if you're able to see a return monitor or these live pictures of the president and a lot of young people there who are taking selfies with the president. You know, there are smiles and you see another little girl who's on the lap of Texas Governor Greg Abbott right now. And this really is so comforting for so many people to see, you know, that we are cared for, when you have to president who's arrived, the Texas governor who's arrived. There almost seems to be like a temporary sense of relief just in their faces.
[13:15:23] GREEN: I hope so. I'm pleased the president is extending the hand of friendship and loving embrace to people. People do need to believe that their government really does care, that they're just not another number, a part of some statistics. This is the way you communicate that, by embracing people, and by looking them in the eyes and saying to them, we're going to be here with you. We're going to do what we can to help you.
And we can do it by the way. We're the richest country in the world. We can to this. We can make sure that our people are taken care of. This is what government is supposed to do in a time of crisis. Only the government can do this. We can get as much volunteer help, we can get people to make donations, corporations can make donations, but it's the government that has to carry the heavy load. And I believe that we're prepared to do this. By the way, if I see that we're not going to do it and we're not preparing ourselves to do it, I'll say it, because people want to hear the truth about what's going on, and I promise to bring the truth.
WHITFIELD: Do you have any frustrations right now? GREEN: Well, my frustration is -- mine is the same as everybody
else's. We want to move as expeditiously as possible. The mayor indicated that he needed a lot of FEMA help as quickly as we can get it. I want FEMA to do this as well, and I believe they're trying. They've moved more than 20,000 people into the area. And the area includes more than Houston, of course.
But I do want the smaller communities to get more attention. In my district, I have Missouri City and Stafford, Texas. And the smallest cities don't get as much attention. I know that Houston is huge, 600 square miles. I understand the need to give a lot of attention to Houston. But I do commend you for the story that I heard while seated here about a smaller city that needs help, too. And we can't leave anybody behind.
Life is an inescapable network of mutuality, according to Dr. King. What impacts one, impacts all directly. Everybody is in this together, whether it impacts you directly because you work at the port of Houston or indirectly because gas prices can go up if that port is not operational. Indirectly, by virtue of your not being in the hospital district in Houston, but directly if you happen to be here. It connects. The web of life has been woven so there's connectivity between all humanity.
WHITFIELD: Congressman Al Green, thank you so much for your time.
GREEN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All the best to you and your constituents. Everyone there in the whole south Texas area are going through an awful lot right now. Appreciate it.
All right. I want to bring in our Stephanie Elam, who is there at NRG Stadium, where we're seeing these live pictures of the president of the United States along with the governor there. We also saw a quick glimpse of HUD Secretary Ben Carson also there.
We saw lots of hugs and pictures being taken with the president there. Just real moments of levity and comfort, Stephanie.
ELAM: And a moment of surprise for the people here who have been staying here at the center. You can see behind me, that is where the president is, back there. That's the kid zone, the area over there where they have staged since tuesday night when they opened up the center, where they have the area for children to play. Since the president has arrived, we have seen some of the families hearing the news, spreading quickly that the president is here, and running over the get a better look, take a picture to see him here. A lot-people very surprised that he's here and making their way over there to take those pictures. If you look up, you see a lot of phones up many the air there.
Yes, he's over in the kid zone playing with children, I'm told. I'm sure you can see it better than I can, being as I'm not that tall. We do know that the president has made his way over there with the people he is traveling with. But obviously, it's a very big surprise for people who have been through such a devastating week to see the president here where they have been staying and trying to get themselves back up on their feet. A welcome sight for many people here.
WHITFIELD: Yes, because a lot of times when you go through a natural disaster even though you're in the company of other people who have gone through it too there is still a feeling of am I invisible, have I been forgotten, how will I get through this, and how reassuring this just might be for a number of people to see the president of the United States, the governor there. You've got, you know, members of his cabinet, HUD Secretary Ben Carson there. People who might feel like this is some reassurance that they may be able to get through this. That they may be able to get some direct assistance.
And then it was nice to see the president in a different form as well. You saw him sit down at the chair and table with the kids there, talking, and there were selfies, et cetera. There was a lot going on there, and it was a nice moment, Stephanie.
This area where the president is right now, ordinarily this is an area where people do what? Is this a place where they're sometimes bedding down? I saw an area where it said kid zone. Is this an area that's become a gymnasium? What has this become in this last few days?
[13:20:56] ELAM: It's really well organized in here. I was able to get a tour of it before, so I can tell you that I know that's the kid zone area. Think about it, for kids going through this devastation, what their minds are dealing with. So to give them some play area there where they can get some of that tension and stress out is what they were thinking, so they set that up.
If you go along, you see here this is where they're handing out goods to people. If you need clothes, soap, toothpaste, you can get those kinds of items here.
It is a massive, massive room that we are in. Room is like not even the right word. It's huge. You could fit a few planes in here. There are cots, cots that are available for single women, another section for families, another section that's there for single men. And down beyond that you have food. There's also showers in here. Then further down, past that they have a pet area. And there is another section that is set up and available for people who want to talk to people, representatives from FEMA. There's also where the public library set up computers, so people can figure out what their paper trail is online perhaps. They have it very well organized here to help the people that have been severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey and have no place to go. Their home is destroyed and they don't have relatives nearby.
They have learned from each one of these natural disasters how they can set up these shelters and evacuation centers to make it easier to help people navigate the road back and figure out what their next steps to are going to be when they get out of here.
But the other thing that's awesome are the number of volunteers who have shown up from the Houston area. Knowing their homes are OK, but have made it a priority to be here. When they opened up tuesday night, they got it up and running within six hours. Wednesday morning, they had more volunteers showing up than they had evacuees here in the building yet. So the response here has been huge when it comes to that.
WHITFIELD: That is so nice.
Thank you so much, Stephanie. We'll check back with you.
Athena Jones, White House correspondent, traveling with the president, although she got there before the president did in Houston. Athena with us now.
Athena, this was like a rather spontaneous moment, right? The White House schedule said one thing, but then to everyone's great surprise, he ended up at the NRG Stadium and meeting face-to-face with people, and it looked like folks got a big kick out of it, too.
JONES: They did. I've been watching these pictures on CNN Go on my cell phone seeing the president with the children, the little girl who hugged his legs and he picked her up. And he's sitting down with kids and their families and taking pictures.
I should mention, it was always on the schedule the president would visit a Hurricane Harvey relief center. They just don't release it ahead of time for security reasons and other reasons, and they kind of moved around the schedule a bit. He had been expected to meet with some storm survivors at Ellington Field, then come to whatever relief center, and then return to Ellington Field to meet with the Texas delegation. Both meetings that were taking place at that airfield will happen after this visit.
But these are the sorts of pictures a lot of focus were hoping to see from the president, him really interacting with people, getting a chance to talk and to hear from those people who have been impacted by this terrible and still ongoing natural disaster.
I'm told by one of the reporters in the press pool, folks who would have been much closer to president, and they said there were people in the crowd that asked -- shouted a question at the president, saying when are you going to release FEMA funds, funds for emergency management? As you know, we've been talking about this emergency request that has already gone to Congress that they are hoping to get to work approving very quickly.
I should also mention, in a briefing late last week, we heard from the acting secretary of Homeland Security that already the government has approved at that point some 100,000 requests for individual assistance totaling more than $50 million. So money is certainly already available, already flowing. Lots of these officials are encouraging people to apply for it. Again, Congress will debate that big initial installment of aid totaling nearly $8 billion early next week.
Stephanie Elam said the president was in the kid zone, much to the surprise and excitement of those kids. One thing we're learning is we talk about how the storm is going to have a lot of impacts. Ten thousand to 12,000 kids in the Houston independent school district will be temporarily displaced from schools, have to find a different place to go to school because the schools are damaged. A lot of issues going forward -- Fred?
[13:25:44] WHITFIELD: Among the contingent traveling with the president, the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But, yes, a lot of these kids will have to be moved to other locations so they can continue their education this fall.
Athena Jones, thanks you so much in Houston.
Live pictures right now. These are actually pictures re-racked from moments ago. Right now the president does remain at the NRG Stadium, a relief center, and meeting firsthand with a lot of the Harvey flood victims.
We'll be right back with much more after this.
[13:30:27] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Just moments ago, the president of the United States getting hugs there at a hurricane relief center, there with Melania Trump. The first lady, standing long side, watching that beautiful moment right there.
We knew that the president and first lady would be in Houston and visiting a hurricane relief center, but we didn't know which one, nor did anybody else. This was a great surprise to people there. A lot of folks running up to him and wanting to take pictures and selfies, like you see there. Very cute moments there.
People are hoping, with this visit, it also means the promise of getting quick aid so they can get back on their feet, get back into their homes and try to resume as best they can life as they knew it there in Texas.
So the situation in Beaumont is simply devastating for so many. Families are searching for running water because -- any kind of clean water because it's been three days since the city's water pumps failed. And officials say water levels are still too high to actually install new pumps that have just arrived. So where does that leave families in need?
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is at a water distribution center near Beaumont, Texas.
Kaylee, what are you hearing from people? Are they getting what they need, at least temporarily?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we have moved on from a site offering more than just water. HEB is offering hot meals for people. They are hoping to provide 6,000 meals for the people of Beaumont today. They have already provided 27,000 across Texas. These trucks earlier in the week were in Victoria, Texas, Rockport, and Houston, some of the areas hit hardest.
I just had a pretty remarkable moment, though, Fred, when I reconnected with a family, who I met yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Disappointed. But we've tried to go and get in another line and, by the time we made it there, they ran out there, too.
HARTUNG: Did you have clean water for your children to drink, brush their teeth, to bathe last ninth circuit? Night?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The day before we got a case of water we got from a church and that's what we used to clean the boys up and behind the net them brush their teeth.
HARTUNG: How needed are the supplies you have right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot. Good, bad, it's a warm meal. We couldn't cook because they shut off the water in Beaumont.
HARTUNG: When I first got here, I met Ruby, who is your mom, who said her daughter was on the way.
Ruby, describe the emotions you have as the matriarch of this family as you all try to make it through this difficult time?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm telling you, with all of us working together, we can do it. We can do it. And my emotions are pretty good right now because I got this right here on my side. Because she tells me -- ma, get up, go do this, go do that. That helps me because I got four kids in my House so I'm running for them. As long as the Lord give me the strength to get up and go and do, that's what I'm going do.
HARTUNG: What were the emotions like tuesday morning when you realized the situation you were in, no running water?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was -- it was horrifying. I just didn't know what to do. My daughter said, mama, come on, let's go get some water and we can work with that, and that's what we did.
HARTUNG: Where did you get it from? You were telling me a story about going to a canal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to flush the toilets. We went to the canal to fill up a couple buckets to flush the toilets to keep it clean in house, you know.
WHITFIELD: Right now I want to go straight to President Trump where he's talking. Let's listen.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just happy. Saw a lot of happiness. It's been really nice. It's been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It's been beautiful. Have a good time, everybody. I'm going to be doing a little help over
They're really happy with what's going on. It's been something -- it's been very well received.
Even you guys, it's been well received.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you look out the window at all -- (INAUDIBLE)?
TRUMP: No, I didn't see it. You mean the flooding? Oh, yes. There was -- there's a lot of water. But it's leaving pretty quickly. But there's a lot of water. A lot of water. But it's moving out.
But I think most importantly the governor, the relationship with the governor and the mayor and everybody, has been fantastic. And with the federal government, it's been great. And we're signing a lot of documents now to get money. $7.9 billion. We signed it. And now it's going through a very quick, hopefully, quick process.
[13:35:14] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How are those kids doing that you were talking with?
TRUMP: Doing what?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How are those kids doing that you were talking with?
TRUMP: I think they're doing great. They're doing really good.
WHITFIELD: All right. The president there at NRG Stadium, quite spontaneous he would end up there. We heard just some of what the president was saying. We'll try and get the top of his answers to questions from reporters there. But he says, you know, as tough as this was it has been a wonderful thing, really happy with what's going on. He says there's a lot of water but it is moving out. And he says the most important thing is the relationship with the governor. So far, it's really great.
And also said he signed that $8 billion package and, hopefully, it will go through the process quickly. It goes to Congress as -- well, when Congress gets back on Tuesday. And the hope is, from his point of view, that it will continue to move on rather quickly and some of that relief aid will be distributed as quickly as possible.
He is there with the first lady there. And people are taking pictures. You hear a few of the squeals of excitement.
Salina Zito is with us.
You're in washington? You're watching some live pictures with us, Salina.
SALINA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm in Pittsburgh.
And Juliette is with us as well.
Salina, you first.
The president with his optimistic comments there at this relief center. His hope is this money will come quickly. How important is this for the president to be seen in this light, to express this kind of optimism? It's his second visit to Texas, but a different visit. He is hands on. He's there with the victims. What's your point of view?
ZITO: I think today the president has handled this very competently. When he first went there, he went with the cabinet members that would deal directly with the aftermath of what happens in the days and weeks and years after all the attention goes away. He then came in -- and so it was very professional, serious setting. He comes back here, you can -- he always talks about how much he loves being a grandfather. As a great grandmother myself, when you see little kids and kind of have that connection, you can understand sort of how he's probably a great grandfather, right. He loved the little kids. They interacted with him well. This is the kind of thing that's important for the president to do and for the first lady to also be part of. It shows empathy. It shows caring. And it's just that emotional connection, a reminder that the government does have a role in protecting and keeping the populace safe and this is one of those moment where it is critical and most important.
Juliette Kayyem, when a president is on the ground, devastation like this, meeting with people, do you believe this helps shape his thinking -- let's see if we can hear this.
TRUMP: Where are they? Where are they?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're back there.
TRUMP: Get them up. Get them up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
WHITFIELD: All right. Well, I couldn't understand what the gentleman was saying but I could hear the president saying, get them up here, so it's perhaps to meet or interact with someone. We'll try to keep our ears open here. You see food bank distribution.
Let's try and listen and hear this interaction.
TRUMP: That's all right. That's all right. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. How are you?
You're a vet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. TRUMP: You could see it.
TRUMP: Go ahead.
Let me ask you, (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you. All right.
TRUMP: Nice to see you.
Go ahead, take a picture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to take one with you.
TRUMP: Go ahead. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to turn it around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here. You ready?
TRUMP: Got it, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.
TRUMP: Hey, wait. Take this. Take this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
TRUMP: All right. Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
[13:40:10] TRUMP: Try it. Try it. We'll do it again.
You got it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Oh, man.
TRUMP: How is it? Got a pretty good one?
WHITFIELD: Looks like some fun selfie moments. Hearing a lot of, "Good to see yous" from both ends. People really excited to get a moment with the president of the United States there, who's also showing his food service skills by handing out food, he along with the first lady there. Lots of smiles in the place. Lots of squeals. Lots of excitement.
With me still here we of got Salina Zito, Juliette Kayyem, as well as Lieutenant General Russel Honore with me now, as we look at these live pictures.
We knew the president would be going to a hurricane relief center. This is the NRG Stadium, where 1,700 or so continue to remain there, sleeping there, getting food, and also getting legal assistance.
We tried to re-rack this tape. Let's listen one more time to some of the questions being asked of the president and his answers. Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Look who we have.
Everything good? Huh?
I think it's great. Just the message that things are working out well. Really, I think people appreciate what's been done. It's been done very efficiently, very well. And that's what we wanted. We're very happy with the way everything's gone. A lot of love. A lot of love.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
TRUMP: They were just happy. Saw a lot of happiness.
It's been really nice. It's been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch it, for the world to watch. It's been beautiful.
Have a good time, everybody. I'm going to be doing a little hope over here.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
TRUMP: They're really happy with what's going on. It's been -- it's been very well received.
Even by you guys, it's been well received.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you look out the window at all (INAUDIBLE)? Did you see any flooding?
TRUMP: No, I didn't see it. You mean the flooding?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes.
TRUMP: Oh, yes. There's a lot of water. But it's leaving pretty quickly. But there's lot of water, a lot-water. But it's moving out.
But I think most importantly the governor, the relationship with the governor and the mayor and everybody, has been fantastic. And with the federal government, it's been real good. And we're signing a lot of documents now to get money for Houston. $7.9 billion. We signed it and now it's going through a quick, hopefully, very quick process.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How are those kids doing that you were talking with?
TRUMP: How they, what?
UNIDENTIFEID REPORTER: How are those kids doing that you were talking with?
TRUMP: I think they're doing great. They're doing really good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. That was the president earlier, just by about 15, 20 minutes ago. Reporters there asking him the question as he showed up at that hurricane relief center at the NRG Stadium. You saw lots of folks, kids, people of all ages taking selfies. The president even picking up one little girl.
You hear the president there very optimistic and saying that he is very happy with the way things are going and that he's getting the message from others that things are going well. And he says the relationship with the governor and the mayor very important.
He talked about signing a proposal of $8 billion in relief and, of course, that now, that proposal going to Congress, and he's expressing some optimism that, hopefully, it will be a quick process.
Joining me now to talk about all this, Salina Zito, Athena Jones, Juliette Kayyem, Lieutenant General Russel Honore.
Juliette, I was in the midst of asking you a question and we went to hear what the president had to say, as he was handing out food and answering questions and got a few high fives, pats on the back from people there and pictures.
So the president says things are going very well. He's very happy with the response and the relationship between federal government, local, state authorities. What's your perspective thus far and expressing that kind of optimism?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think president's presence, especially on sort of a sunny day, when at least the crowd he was with is clearly a crowd that's heading towards recovery, filling out the forms, getting food, they'll figure out what their long-term sheltering needs are, I think it's so important the president is there. Having been in disaster management, the sense of isolation by survivors of a disaster, the government comes in, it's stops a bad thing from happening, then leaves. So it's very important that the federal government sort of keeps the presence there.
Not being on the ground, it's hard to say it's all gone great. I think we know that's not true. But I will say, overall, if you asked me eight days ago, before Harvey hit, oh, my goodness, looking at that trajectory, what would I expect to happen? The physical damage has been significant, will take a long time for Texas to recover. But the death toll, while not fixed, is something that I think that the emergency responders, the police, everyone who's been involved should be -- in a horrible situation, should actually be quite proud of. It's remarkable when you actually think about what Texas was facing.
[13:40:46] WHITFIELD: Lieutenant General Honore, of course, you bring that very keen perspective from Katrina. There have been some comparisons made because of how widespread and devastating this storm was. But what's your point of view when the president expresses such optimism that things are going rather well, and he's optimistic it will only get better?
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, FORMER COMMANDER, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA: Well, I think we ought to emphasize that since Katrina, and because of Katrina, Rita, Gustav and others, significant improvements have been made in FEMA. Right now, you can get individual assistance within 24 to 36 hours after the storm's over. And you fill out the form online with FEMA, you've got money in your check account. We didn't have that at Katrina. This is a significant improvement.
The other thing is the SBA will start opening loans up to people who determined that they had gaps. Those SBA loans can be applied for online now if people say they need something to open their business. 40 percent of small businesses fail after a disaster. And with the SBA being integrated as a disaster center, this is new. All this has been done since Katrina. And in that regard, the loans that they give those companies will help them get back and get in business, Fred.
The last point is there should be an effort to get local businesses to run the debris removal. That is a way for small businesses to get back on their feet doing debris removal.
WHITFIELD: As opposed to having to hold on to --
HONORE: -- they give it to big companies and the small companies, locally don't get to do it.
WHITFIELD: So also new, Athena, there in Houston, is seeing the president in this light, so interactive, you know, with people, shaking hands, you know, smiling. There are hugs, pictures being taken. And it really does seem to provide a sense of relief and comfort just looking in the eyes and the faces of the victims here who are getting food handed them from the president and first lady.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. You can look at the excitement not just on the children's faces but the people who are a little older in that crowd. Clearly pleased to see the president and the first lady taking an interest in them, showing that they're concerned about what happens to the victims of this storm. Just a few minutes ago, we were watching the president, he had gloves on, and he and the first lady were helping hand out meals. Those were the kinds of pictures a lot of folks want to see from a president in a tragedy like this. A tragedy may not be avoidable. There are going to be natural disasters and they want to see the president play the role of comforter and so we're seeing him do a little bit of that today.
But it's interesting, you guys talked about how of the mystic the president has sounded. That's what he sounded like today and what he sounded like on tuesday. He's being sort of a cheerleader saying the government -- the federal government, state and local officials are working well together, this is all going to be fine, the water is going down, down fast. Well, that's true in some areas, but it's not true in others. This idea that things are going well is great, but things are going to have to continue to go well for a number of months. So that is why it's important to hear the president make that pledge that the federal government is going to be with the people of this region and not just today or tomorrow but until this area rebuilds. He clearly wants very much to focus on how quickly they'll be able to get things done for the people here -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: Salina, victims are going to hold him to that, because there is this moment, the high point, meeting with the president, he's speaking optimistically, and the first lady is there, and everything seems, you know, so great. Tomorrow comes, a week, a month down the line, and if you have lost everything, and you don't know where to begin, and even though you've filled out paperwork or perhaps received a $30,000 check from FEMA, it's still not enough to get you back to where you were before this storm came through.
How important will it be, Salina, and who will hold the president to task on delivering all the way, so that this great euphoric moment today is what people are feeling a month, a year from now, et cetera?
[13:50:11] ZITO: Right. So right now, this is an important moment what he's doing, but you're right. You're absolutely right, having covered disasters before, it's the weeks and months and years afterwards. I think Katrina it was rightly pointed out that there were so many inefficiencies associated with it because they didn't have the technological capabilities to make the aftermath work for the people that were impacted. I think a lot has changed in automation and technology to help them through. But I think it's very important that Governor Abbott and the state and local officials hold the president -- and the president holds their hand going forward. And he's able to show that, you know, that he is there for the state and local officials and for the people.
There are going to be problems with bureaucracies. There's going to be problems -- there's going to be red tape, there's going to be bad guys that will gouge people with -- those things that are going to start to put breaks on the message afterwards. But if he wants to showcase this as a person who is competent and can make this, you know, an example of how government does good, you know, it's important that he stays on top of this the whole time.
WHITFIELD: All right. Salina, Lieutenant General, Juliette -- going by memory because I don't see your faces -- Athena, there you are -- thank you so much. Again, we're looking at these images one more time of moments ago the
president and the first lady there in NRG Stadium meeting with victims of Hurricane Harvey. Some real moments of happiness, levity, comfort, you name it. Handing out food, taking selfies, all of that. And it continues.
We'll be right back.
[13:56:28] WHITFIELD: All right. All happening right now, President Donald Trump and first lady, Melania, right there at a hurricane relief center there in Houston. Lots of hugs, handing out food, and lots of smiles.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the storm, pro sports will be played in the city of Houston, providing a break from the grim realities the city has been facing for the past week. The Astros will take to the field this afternoon to play a doubleheader against the New York Mets.
CNN's Nick Valencia is at the stadium in Houston.
Nick, people must be pretty pumped up about all this.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think this is the first time we've seen this many people smile in the last week, Fredricka. There's a lot of optimism floating around here, and we haven't felt that in this community in the last eight days or so.
Earlier, I spoke to the owner of the Astros and he, along with the rest of the organization, they understand the importance of today's game. They were affected as well. Some of their employees lost homes. Some of their employees lost houses. He talked about what the city has been through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM CRANE, OWNER, HOUSTON ASTROS: Today, it's going to be fun. The guys are back, they did some work in the shelter yesterday, and they couldn't have been nicer. They sat down and played with the kids. They care about the community and they're good guys and they've got families, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VALENCIA: One of the very special things that one of the youngest stars of the Astros is doing, Joe Musgrove, is taking cleats signed by some of the youngest victims of Hurricane Harvey, some victims as young as 8 years old, he's going to be wearing those as a symbol of solidarity with the community.
These fans could not be more appreciative. I caught up with a couple of them on their way into the game. Listen to what they had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FAN: I think it's really good. I think it's going to help keep everyone in good spirits. It's bringing us closer together.
UNIDENTIFIED FAN: I'm super excited to see them being back home. And I know we're going to win.
VALENCIA: Oh, you're that positive, that confident?
UNIDENTIFIED FAN: We have to. We had a horrible week, so we have to make it up.
UNIDENTIFIED FAN: We're just happy that it's over and now we can just -- Houston, we're going to make it happen. It's going to come back to normal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VALENCIA: This is a doubleheader today, Fred. So fans think, not only Astros will steal one game, they'll steal both. A lot of smiles here.
WHITFIELD: Good luck. Of course, we're all rooting for them. You know, no matter what team you're rooting for --
WHITFIELD: -- you got to root for the Astros.
Nick Valencia, thank you so much, in Houston.
We'll be right back.