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CNN Reports, Pelosi Expected to Visit Taiwan Despite Warnings from China; More Rain in Kentucky's Forecast After Floods Kill At Least 30; Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Expected to Call Vote This Week on Burn Pits Bill for Veterans. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Jim Sciutto.

The trip back on. CNN has learned that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan despite China's warnings. It was previously unknown if she would visit while leading a congressional delegation tour of Asia. We're also learning that President Biden stopped short of asking the House speaker not to visit after saying publicly the U.S. military did not believe it was a good time.

China, again, warned this morning against the visit, repeating that its military won't sit idly by if Beijing feels its sovereignty and territorial integrity are being threatened, not clear what they mean by that.

Plus, and this is sad to watch, the death toll rising in Kentucky. The governor announced this morning at least 30 people have died. Hundreds though are still unaccounted for. This follows devastating flooding in the eastern part of that state. More storms potentially are on the way. We're going to have the latest updates from the ground there in just a moment.

First, though, our top story this hour, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, expected to visit Taiwan despite these warnings we have been discussing from Beijing. This morning, the Biden administration showed support for her decision.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We want to make sure that when she travels overseas, she can do so safely and securely, and we're going to make sure of that. There's no reason for the Chinese rhetoric. There's no reason for any actions to be taken. It is not uncommon for congressional leaders to travel to Taiwan. It is very much in keeping with our policy.


SCIUTTO: Our Will Ripley is in Taipei, the capital, Taipei, Taiwan, this morning. And, Will, I wonder, we've heard, as we've discussed, rhetoric like this, inflammatory rhetoric often from China as it regards Taiwan. They've amped it up, but I wonder what Taiwan is feeling about this visit, particularly from such a high level.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly a difference probably what they're feeling at the president's office versus what we would be observing at the night market. Everyday folks, this is pretty universal, really don't care much about this. They're not following it very closely. It's not getting a lot of play in the local news, because people feel like this the kind of thing that has happened so many times. They've been on this rhetorical roller coast, tensions are up, tensions are down. And it's always, for them, has turned out the same, nothing has really happened in terms of that, you know, looming invasion from China that has yet to materialize.

But what they know in the president's office is that the dynamics now are very different, even from 25 years ago when Newt Gingrich, the last speaker to come here. Nancy Pelosi is staying overnight. She's going to be having the kind of meetings that could really help Taiwanese government officials build those connections, those relationships with people in Washington that they are counting on in a time of trouble with Taiwan if China were to make a move across the strait.

And so you have this potentially be infuriating for President Xi Jinping months before his party congress. We know that he values stability and he doesn't want to see anything that could create potentially problems for him, getting his unprecedented third term and presumably president for life status. But on the other hand, he doesn't want to appear weak and he doesn't want the United States to basically throw in China's face that they're sending somebody who is a couple steps away from the presidency, to have these meetings in a place that they consider so much a part of China that they include it in their passport in the pages where is they list the provinces, there's a page for Taiwan.

And, of course, here in Taiwan, they would point out they've had their own government and their own military since the end of China's civil war more than 70 years ago. They're saying in Taipei China should move on, Jim, but China says it's only a matter of time before Taiwan is a part of China. Is that time now or is it somewhere down the road? That's the big question.

SCIUTTO: And the U.S. is preparing for it and providing more weapons as well to Taiwan to potentially defend itself. Will Ripley in Taipei, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Susan Glasser, Staff Writer for The New Yorker, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, and CNN's Kylie Atwood, she's at the U.N., covers the State Department for us. Good to have you both on.

Susan, I just want to put this into context, because China does not shy away from broad, inflammatory rhetoric, both from officials and also from Communist Party newspapers, like The Global Times. So, here we are again, if you play with fire, you will get burned, that was part of the message we got from the readout between the call between Xi Jinping and Biden last week. Should Americans take those threats as anything more than rhetoric at this point? We have not yet as of yet seen military moves.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, that's right. But there's a zone between all-out invasion and the status quo. And I think, unfortunately, Jim, that seems to be where we're entering this period right now. There have been, what, many would consider to be escalatory moves in addition to this inflammatory rhetoric by the Chinese, for example, declaring that this Taiwan Strait is not international water.


Is this something that they're looking to provoke a confrontation over?

Remember, there have been multiple crises over the Taiwan Strait in the decades where the U.S. has maintained this policy of support, but also ambiguity when it comes to how they would support Taiwan. So, it's not just -- the hullabaloo over the Pelosi trip sort of obscures the fact that China has recently made what many would consider to be potentially destabilizing. They may be looking to provoke some sort of a crisis.

One China expert I spoke with recently said this might be Xi Jinping's version of a wag the dog scenario, an effort to have a crisis in order to distract in some ways.

SCIUTTO: Kylie, the administration is -- whatever they're doing privately, they've gone out of their way publicly to say this trip is Pelosi's choice. We've Kirby again this morning. He said the same to me on Friday that if she does go, our focus is going to be on keeping her safe, right, from any potential threats.

Behind the scenes, in your view, in the State Department, was there a broader campaign by this administration to try to hold Pelosi back at this time given warnings from our own Defense Department?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I think the reality is that they wanted her to be realistic about what the risk actually could entail here. And that's why we have reported that there have been these briefings that Pelosi and her team have received over the last few days, as these preparations for this trip were under way.

We should also consider the fact that President Biden himself has been quite forward-leaning in support for Taiwan. And so that is a piece of this entire puzzle too, as China is watching Pelosi's trip here, they have also watched what President Biden has said.

Now, the White House has been very clear in saying that the One China policy still remains, but you do have this ardent support for Taiwan coming from the Biden administration.

And I do think it's important to note that I was told last night by an administration official that officials within U.S. government, particularly at the Department of Defense, have been working around the clock and focused on two things as this trip is likely to take part this week. First, monitoring what China is doing in the region, in both the sea space and also in the air space, and also, of course, securing that plan to make sure that this trip goes off as planned without a hitch safely, as they're concerned about these Chinese warplanes that have been increasingly, as Susan was saying, flying into Taiwan's airspace.

SCIUTTO: Kylie Atwood, Susan Glasser, thanks so much. We'll be watching closely.

Our other top story this morning, the death toll rising in a flood- ravaged Kentucky. It now stands at at least 30 people. Four of those victims are children. And you look at this picture, all of them gone, siblings between the ages of two and eight years old.

Last hour, the Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear gave an update on those who are still missing, there are lots of them.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): There are hundreds of unaccounted for people, minimum. And we just don't have a firm grasp on that. I wish we did.

We have a total of 150 displaced folks housed at our state parks at the moment and there are at least that amount in Red Cross shelters.


SCIUTTO: Lord, hundreds of people missing.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in one of the hardest hits town, Hazard, Kentucky. Evan, I mean, to hear the governor say, hundreds missing, you've been describing some of the physical devastation there, but are you talking to families and first responders who were saying the same thing, that they just don't know the fate of people there?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have been every day we've been here talking to people. Everyone you talk to in this area has someone or themselves been affected by these floods. Our first night here, we were at a pop-up donation center where some of the volunteers who were helping to get supplies who had themselves lost everything, had themselves lost everything.

You mentioned that picture, that horrible picture of those beautiful kids that got killed in these floods. Local officials here are asking people to give them personal photos of relatives so when they go out into these woods, go out into this mountainous region looking for people, they can identify some of those bodies.

Now, the good news is the governor says they're hoping there are still people who are still alive and are trapped. In his press conference earlier today, he asked people to call the Kentucky State Police if their missing relatives or friends that didn't go out there with these teams because the waters have receded a bit and try and go find and people. [10:10:00]

But there's bad news on the horizon here, and that's bad news in the form of more rain. It's been raining all morning. Right now, it is not raining. You can see what that rain has been doing, and the floodwaters did. Here I am along Highway 28 in Perry County. This creek here is what surging over and flooded, bringing debris into this building over here, breaking the bottom floor off and ripping everything out and pouring it down into that creek.

More rain, obviously, is not helpful in this situation, but tonight, according to forecasts, we're expecting some severe thunderstorms and the chance, again, of more rain flooding has been mentioned, and wind, which, of course, with ground this wet, with trees all over the place, could be very, very dangerous.

So, there's a lot of work to do, and also more tragedy potentially to come. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Lord. Good to have you there. Keep us updated. Thanks so much.

In the city of Hindman, Kentucky, many homes are under water because of the flooding and several water lines breaks as well. The town's mayor, Tracy Neice, has been personally working to clean up as best he can, there he is, operating a backhoe and joins me on the phone.

First, I wonder, mayor, I imagine your priority has to be right now people. We hear the governor saying hundreds are missing. Are people missing in your town and what is the latest you've been hearing?

MAYOR TRACY NEICE, WINDMAN, KENTUCKY (voice over): The latest report we have is that in our county as a whole, we have 16 people that are deceased, three of which were in my city limits. I think there is maybe four or five on a list that is possibly unaccounted for, but the unaccounted is not an official statement there. I'm not for sure on that.

SCIUTTO (voice over): I get it. And I know, listen, a lot of this is just catching up to see what you know.

You used the phrase, everything is gone, to describe the situation now in Hindman. Tell us what it looks like there so people get a sense.

NEICE (voice over): I mean, we had -- I've lived here in this town for 56 years, and I have never seen water of this nature. It was like a place to whitewater raft down main street, 15-foot high waters.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Wow.

NEICE (voice over): It was just devastating to all of our businesses, all of our offices. The courthouse for the county and the city hall kind of sits up on a little knoll, and those two buildings and one the quick mart right in the heart of town was not damaged by water, but the majority was just devastated.

SCIUTTO: Did you get enough warning of this? Did people get enough warning that this kind of thing was coming?

NEICE (voice over): I mean, people here in this area, like I said, I've been here all my life, we were used to small flooding. Everyone refers back to the '57 flood that took out Hazard, which I think you just had an interview over in Perry County. You know, we had high waters then. But especially where I live, we were used to, you know, somewhat of flooding but not the vast water that we had, you know, Wednesday night, Thursday morning.

The area that I lived at, there is an access ramp that takes us to highway 80. I sat there on the guard rail and looked over and watched it just keep rising and, I mean, it was in my home in a matter of minutes.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Now, there's more rain coming, we hear. What do you say to folks who are still there now?

NEICE (voice over): The best thing that I can do, as of right now, let me touch on this, we have had some rain this morning. We do have water back in the roadways. It is actually flooding over here now, as we speak. But we have some roads that are not accessible right now.

It has slacked up raining. If it starts to recede, I would suggest the people -- I mean, I don't know all these people here in our town, I don't know -- I think they've went back to their homes to try to recover stuff, personal items and stuff. But I don't think that there's anyone, you know, that's been affected by this is actually residing in the homes that was destroyed. But if there is anyone still staying there, my suggestion is try to get out and get somewhere else because it possibly could happen again.

SCIUTTO: Lord. Well, listen, we know you're doing your part as we said going in doing your best to clean up and get people the help they need.


We wish you the best of luck. We wish the people of Hindman the best of luck. Mayor, thanks for joining us.

NEICE (voice over): Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, one of the Republican senators who blocked a bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits explains his vote.

Plus, we'll preview several key primary races about to be decided, some Republicans who voted to impeach trump on the ballot, plus a lot of election-deniers.

And later, CNN is on the scene after a Ukrainian town, yet one more town, rocked by Russian airstrikes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This crater here gives you an idea of just how big the blast was. (END VIDEO CLIP)



SCIUTTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to call for a vote this week on a bill to expand care for veterans. The PACT Act, as it's known, is a multibillion dollar measure that would help veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their service overseas. Last week, a procedural vote failed after 25 Republican senators switched and voted against the bill.

The legislation is named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson. He died of lung cancer, blamed the illness on exposure to smoke from burning trash pits during his deployment to Iraq. His widow reacted to that failed vote.


DANIELLE ROBINSON, WIDOW OF SERGEANT FIRST CLASS HEATH ROBINSON: This has to be a bipartisan passage. This is a patriotic and American bill. It does not involve Republicans and Democrats and their separation of parties. I need all of them to look at Arlington Cemetery as they're coming in to D.C. on Monday, and remember why those men and women are laying in the ground in that cemetery.


SCIUTTO: CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more. Manu, last week, the Republicans said is it was not about the bill. In general, it was about specific provisions, amendments that they didn't have considered. I wonder, will the vote this week be different? Have they gotten over those hurdles?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, the expectation is that it will be different and that it will pass. But any one senator can scuttle this, delay things even further, and that still has to play out.

Now, this vote last week was a surprise, because of the vote, initially, 84 senators voted to approve this bill. It would have just went to the House for final approval. But because of a technical error, it required it to come back to Senate. And rather than allowing it to be approved quickly, Republican opponents, like Senator Pat Toomey, insisted on changes to the legislation.

Toomey, in particular, was concerned about how this budgeting is done under this proposal, rather than what's known as mandatory spending, requiring the spending to come year after year. He wants to shift this over to discretionary spending, which gives Congress more of a say every year on the spending proposal.

Now, this bill would deal with health care for those veterans who have been exposed to the burning waste, those burn pits on those bases. Those, of course, can lead to respiratory illnesses, long-term effects, and it could provide up to 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans health care. And this would cost roughly $280 billion over a decade.

Now, Pat Toomey defended his opposition by contending Democrats were pushing forward with budget gimmicks.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): This is the oldest trick in Washington. People take a sympathetic group of Americans, and it could be children with an illness, it could be victims of crime, it could be veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, craft a bill to address their problems, and then sneak in something completely unrelated that they know could never pass on its own and dare Republicans to do anything about it. Because they know they'll unleash their allies in the media and maybe a pseudo celebrity to make up false accusations to try to get us to just swallow what shouldn't be there. That's what is happening here.


RAJU: But what is surprising is that this was essentially the same exact bill that the senators had just approved. 25 of them switched their votes to no because they wanted Pat Toomey to get an opportunity to offer an amendment. And the pushback against that from those who are support thing bill is that by Toomey were to get his change into the legislation, it would make it harder for these veterans to get the dedicated access to health care year-after-year, because Congress could essentially whittle down that money, change it year-after-year, which is why they resist that.

But, nevertheless, the Democrats also believe that Republicans shifted their position because of the deal on that separate Manchin/Toomey economic package as a way to pay them back for that. Republicans deny that. But, nevertheless, Jim, it looks like that they can resolve these issues here over the next couple of days, give Toomey his amendments, get this bill passed. We don't expect that to happen but potentially early this week.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, thanks very much.

RAJU: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Michigan is just one of the states where voters will head to the poll tomorrow for primary elections. Lots of big questions here, including a lot of election-deniers on the ballot. We're going to take a closer look at the candidates.



SCIUTTO: Tomorrow, voters in Michigan will head to the polls to cast ballots in a handful of key Republican primary elections. Trump-backed election denier Tudor Dixon is hoping to take on Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer for governor in November.

Dixon pushed baseless election fraud claims on Fox News just yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the 2020 election was stolen?

TUDOR DIXON (R) MICHIGAN CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR: Well, it's certainly a concern to a lot of folks here in Michigan because of the way the election was handled by our secretary of state. She did things that were considered unlawful by a judge. We have to make sure our elections are secure, and what happened in 2020 doesn't happen again.


SCIUTTO: Dixon also pushed back on efforts to hold Trump responsible for the January 6th attack.


One of her competitors has also spread lies about the 2020 election and is now facing charges for his alleged involvement in the Capitol riot.