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Death Toll Rises, Rescues Underway as More Kentucky Rain Looms; How Climate Crisis Has Intensified Historic Floods in Kentucky; Biden Quietly Piles Up Legislative Victories Amid Economic Woes; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Expected to Visit Taiwan Despite China Warnings. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 06:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Right now in Kentucky rescues are underway and the death toll is rising. The state is still reeling from last week's flooding that has now claimed at least 28 lives including at least four children. Rescue teams are desperately searching for victims in areas that have been hard to reach. This as the region braces for exactly what it does not need, more rain.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And the scenes of flooding in Kentucky are just horrific. The floodwaters lifting homes off their foundations. More than 50 bridges washed away, as Kentucky's governor giving a dire site on the scope of the devastation.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): With the level of water, we're going to be finding bodies for weeks. Many of them swept hundreds of yards, maybe quarter mile plus from where they were lost. Water, a big problem with some of these areas. Power. And any moment when we get over the rain, it's going to be really hot in this next week. So we are still in an emergency phase.


KEILAR: Let's go now to Evan McMorris-Santoro. He is live for us in Hazard, Kentucky.

Heartbreaking what we learned over the weekend out of Kentucky, Evan. Tell us what you're seeing there now.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I'm standing on the side of Highway 28 in Perry County, Kentucky, one of more than a dozen counties severely affected by these flash floods.

And as you can see, there is rain coming down. It's been steady, sometimes really hard this morning. But mostly just fairly steady. Forecasters tell us they're not expecting it to be the same kinds of rain as we saw last week that brought those floodwaters. But they are warning that there is a flood watch where I am right now until 8:00. That's more water that this area just does not need.


BESHEAR: Just devastation.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear touring damaged areas, and becoming emotional while discussing the rising numbers of those lost.

BESHEAR: So these are -- these are 28 Kentuckians. We expect that there will be more. That number will grow.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Five days of flooding have left thousands of homes and businesses in the region in the dark. Some drinking water systems still out of operation. Inundated homes are almost everywhere. And tons of debris await cleanup.

But the rain keeps falling, with isolated areas seeing as much as four inches since Sunday afternoon. The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch through at least Monday morning for some parts of southern and eastern Kentucky.

JEREMY SLINKER, DIRECTOR, KENTUCKY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: The forecast is concerning and we're watching it very closely, obviously. We also are sending out warnings and making sure everyone knows we're preparing for it and making sure all of the residents there are prepared for it because we just don't want to lose anyone else or have any more threats.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Many are exhausted and desperate for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Homes are destroyed. We just need help. We need as much help, please. I'm begging anyone. Please. Help my town. Help my people.

MAYOR TIFFANY CRAFT, WHITESBURG, KENTUCKY: When I saw my in the shape that they were in and hearing about people having to be rescued in the manners that they were, it's the hardest I ever prayed in my life.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: This 98-year-old woman saved by an unidentified man along with two of her relatives. As their home in Whitesburg was being swallowed by flood waters. The dramatic video filmed by another person who is stranded. Many homeowners say it's too risky to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if anybody can move back into these homes for a long time if ever.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: But Beshear says Kentuckians will rebuild their destroyed communities.

BESHEAR: We're going to rebuild every single part of your city. Every part.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So the challenge with that rebuilding is that this rain is still coming in. And the damage is so vast. I'm going to have photojournalist Dave Brooks show you a bit of what we're looking at here on this side of Highway 28. This is a creek running along the side of this area. And you can see it swept with it as the waters rose just all this debris. You can see a street sign, a road sign, you know, those debris buried very deep in the ground. You can see it's ripped out and just pulled right down this creek into this area here.

This building next to us is like a general store, an antique store. The debris smacked the bottom of that building and ripped everything out right down to the ground there. This is the stuff that they're dealing with as rescuers are out there still trying to find people who are trapped in places like this. Where we are right now is fairly accessible but there are a lot of parts up here where people live that the one road in, the one bridge in got washed out.

We heard yesterday about people going up in ATVs trying to bring elderly people supplies. But they need to get those people stabilized and get them supplies and get them help fast. Because as you heard the governor say in that package, once this rain maybe starts to stop, then comes really overwhelming heat.


It's just an unbelievable situation here and this is very, very active tragedy -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. We see that rain. They don't need any more of it.

Evan, thank you so much for reporting for us from Kentucky.

AVLON: And joining us now is Bill Weir, CNN chief climate correspondent.

Bill, you know, there is a saying in the South, God willing and if the creek don't rise. But you hear over and over the word unprecedented in the devastation we're seeing. How much of this is a new normal due to climate change? And what can local communities do to mitigate it?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: I think the resounding answer is it's absolutely has to do with warming climate. This is what the scientists have been warning us about for a generation now. A warmer atmosphere holds more water. So places that are generally wet are going to get a lot weather. Places that are drier, you're seeing just out west getting a lot drier as a result here. And this is the sad tragedy, the injustice of this climate crisis.

It's the communities that can afford the least that will have to, you know, buttress themselves the most against these events. Fifty bridges went out in this one storm. These are 2,000 year events within a couple of hours of each other in the same region. And again, the governor, he's trying to mourn. He's trying to grieve in real time for these families who are losing children, and now when the sun comes out, the horror really begins because if you've ever had water in your house you know that that ordeal is like.

But he's hamstrung, the governor, this Democratic governor, Beshear in Kentucky, by Republican legislature. His energy plan which came out last October did not even mention the words climate change in them. Two-thirds of state still runs on coal there. But the conversation in these communities has to change for their own survival and they're own preparation for what's next.

KEILAR: The conversation is changing a little bit in that if you listen to what people who have lived there their whole lives say, they'll say it has just gotten worse and worse and worse and we've never seen it like this.

WEIR: Right. Right.

KEILAR: So they know that. When does it shift from that to OK, what's going on and what do we need to do?

WEIR: What do we need to do about it, that's the question. The speed at which society transforms itself and embraces these questions will determine how much pain and suffering is on the other side of it. I've seen polls recently or studies that show regardless of party, if you've experienced this, you will say climate change is real and it's happening right now.

Now regardless of ideology there, so, but you don't want everybody to have to go through this, you know, in order for communities to harden themselves and for us to start thinking about the next chapter.

AVLON: I mean, the suffering of the families, we were talking, I mean, four children in one family.

WEIR: Yes.

AVLON: So my question to you is, what does the history tell us about the impact of these events on the legislators, on the senators? I mean, you know, Kentucky, the rebuilding may benefit from having Mitch McConnell be the Senate minority leader. But at what point does this kind of devastation to families, to constituents, start moving the needle on changing legislators' perspectives on what's happening?

WEIR: I think it depends on the state and really depends on the politics as you go state by state. But the more I cover this beat, the more, you know, we think about things in national terms, is this national sport we observed. But everything, zoning is local. Everything starts at that community level. So it is times like this, if you've been spared to have a -- to go to the next city council meeting or the next town council meeting and say, hey, guys, are we thinking about what happens if this comes our way?

Local communities can only do so much with the resources they have. The tax bases they have. But I really think what we're going to see from local news, local weathermen talking about this in different way, and it's sort of a grassroots going up out of dearth of action from the top down. You know?

AVLON: Well, here's hoping that some action is taken because the devastation is real. And this community needs help right now.

WEIR: Absolutely. Absolutely. For a long time.

AVLON: Thanks, buddy.

WEIR: You bet. Good to see you.

AVLON: All right. The Biden administration is in full-court press to secure these legislative victories ahead of the midterm elections. And one potential big win coming late last week when Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer came to an agreement on a reconciliation bill that really no one saw coming. But is it enough to motivate Democrats to go to the polls?

Joining us now to discuss is CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.


AVLON: Good morning. How are you?


AVLON: Good to see you on set. So this deal.


AVLON: This has a lot of big ticket items that are broadly popular. How do you see its prospects for passage and do you think it will motivate Democrats come the midterms?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, prospect for passage, you start with Kyrsten Sinema who is, you know, the one remaining wild card.


BROWNSTEIN: But that previous segment, you know, look, Arizona, massive decline in the river flow of the Colorado River affecting water availability in the state. Flash floods, wildfires becoming more prevalent in the state. Someone who started as a Green Party activist, is she really going to sink the most important federal action ever against climate change?


I suppose it's possible. But it will be an incredible repudiation of everything she's really stood for her entire life to this point. So I've got to think that in the end just the sheer magnitude of the challenge that you're describing in the previous segment forces her to come across the line.

Now, look, there is no one bill or even a combination of bills. There's no magic eraser for 9 percent inflation and a 40 percent approval rating for the incumbent president, and wipe out all the challenges Democrats face. But I think they do have a series of events starting with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Uvalde shooting on gun control, the January 6th hearings and now this climate package that does give them the opportunity to energize their Democratic base of voters more than seen possible six or eight weeks ago and then maybe avoid the worst if nothing else in November. KEILAR: How much stronger does it make Democrats to have something

positive to sell, an achievement to sell, versus something to just kind of scare people about?


KEILAR: And with whom does that really work?

BROWNSTEIN: I think that's a key point. And really important for young people, right. One reason that we all know why 2018 was better for Democrats than midterms usually have been, 2014 and 2010, is because many more young people showed up. And now young people would never -- were never that enthusiastic about Biden during the primaries. His approval rating among them now is at 40 percent or below.

Democrats really have only had the negative threat to motivate them with which is that Republicans are coming through your abortion rights or Republicans are too conservative on gun control. This climate package I think is the most positive thing they have to go to young people to say, look, when you vote, it matters. It can make a difference. You can see progress on policies that you care about.

So again, it's not an eraser. It doesn't eliminate all those other headwinds. But it does give them something new to work with. And for Democrats, midterm elections, I think there have only been four midterm elections since the Civil War when the party in power hasn't lost as many seats as Republicans would need to win to take the House. So, you know, there is a long history here.

But it's not guaranteed that you have an absolute wipeout. And it's far from guaranteed that Democrats lose the Senate. Their goal has to be to kind of avoid the worst. And again, if you look at abortion, guns, January 6th, and now this, it gives them at least something to work with in trying to do that.

AVLON: So let's talk about those benchmarks. And (INAUDIBLE) here, I know that, you know, the average midterm loss for the party, president's party, is 27 seats since the Second World War. I mean, I'm not asking to handicap that precisely. But this election seems a little different. And if, for example, drug prices are reduced, does that do you think act as a countervailing --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, pricing are coming down.

AVLON: That's right. So is that enough to blunt that average? Because that would blow away Democrats in terms of control of the House.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, look, you know, again, holding it down to four seats or less I think that's only happened four times. So that's going to be very difficult. But there are defeats. And then there are defeats that would keep you from being negative for years.

AVLON: Shellacking.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Thumping. You know, all the different words that we'd used over the last 20 years. Look, the big -- the word that I think we're going to hear the most of between now and November is decoupling. Is it happening or not? And what that means is over the last 30 years, the relationship between how people feel about the president and who they vote for in November, in the midterms, has intensified.

And we've seen this routine now for the president's party to lose 85 percent to 90 percent of the voters who say they disapprove of his performance. That's what happened to Trump in 2018. 90 percent of voters who said they disapproved of Trump voted Democratic for the House. This time in polling both in the national generic ballot but also in these Senate races Republicans are only winning about 70 percent to 75 percent of people who disapprove of Biden.

Much lower than Democrats wanted people who disapprove of Trump. That is the thin blue line between a, you know, a kind of a disappointing election and really bad election for Democrats. Can they sustain that all the way? We don't know. But if they do, that will be why they avoid the worst.

AVLON: But as you say with President Biden under 40 percent in most approval polls, that's a serious weight.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a big hill.

AVLON: For the Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a big ditch to climb out of, yes.

AVLON: For sure. Ron Brownstein, great to see you on set, my friend.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

AVLON: Be well.

All right. This morning, Speaking Nancy Pelosi leading a congressional delegation in Asia. But there is no word yet on a possible stop in Taiwan. That's fueled tensions with China. CNN live on the ground, next.

Also, President Biden is back in isolation after testing positive for a rebound case of COVID. Got the latest on his condition. That's ahead.

KEILAR: And how did a pilot fall to his death from a flight in midair? The mystery in the sky ahead.



KEILAR: This morning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation are visiting Singapore which is the start of a two-day official visit to the Indo-Pacific region. It also includes stops in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

And CNN's Will Ripley is joining us live now from Taipei with some big news on this trip -- Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Yes. We have some brand new CNN reporting from our producer Eric Cheung here in Taipei. He has confirmed with a senior Taiwanese government official and a U.S. official familiar with the matter that Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House speaker, will be visiting Taiwan after making a stop in Malaysia. The exact date, we're not reporting that just yet but it will be in the coming days. And now we wait to see what China's response will be.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Taiwan's first line of defense from a Chinese invasion, Taipei Port, a crucial river gateway to the capital. If China takes the port, the presidential office will be next. For decades Taiwanese troops have been training to defend this island from the mainland's massive military. The world's only Chinese speaking democracy preparing for a David and Goliath scenario, made more credible by Russia's war on Ukraine.


The latest fiery threats from Beijing, whose communist rulers regard Taiwan as a breakaway province, reaching fever pitch all over leaked plans of a potential visit to the self-governing island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Third in line to the presidency, Pelosi will be the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Pelosi is leading a congressional delegation in the Indo-Pacific region including Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. No official mention of Taiwan.

Analysts say Pelosi could still visit Taiwan, a whirlwind stop lasting hours, not days, an attempt to reign in the rhetoric and tame China's threats to not play with fire by supporting Taiwan independence.

Senator Tammy Duckworth's delegation dropped by Taiwan for just a few hours in May. China still flew dozens of warplanes near Taiwan. Taipei leaders called Beijing a bully. And the news cycle moved on.

TSAI HUAI-CHUNG, TEA SHOP OWNER IN TAIPEI (through translator): I don't think they will retaliate. I don't worry about it. Mainland China is just threatening us. If they really decide to invade Taiwan, they can kill it within two to three days. They don't need to talk much.

RIPLEY: It's a view shared by many in Taiwan. They've been riding this rhetorical rollercoaster for decades. As the latest U.S.-China threats dominated global headlines, they were barely mentioned by the media in Taiwan. The island with the most to lose has lost interest.

MAGGIE LIN, DIRECTOR OF AFTER-SCHOOL CLUB IN TAIPEI (through translator): I wasn't interested in finding out more about it. I'm not concerned. China has done the same thing many times. But exchanges between Taiwan and the U.S. shouldn't be stopped because of this. RIPLEY: Many Taiwanese people perceive war with China as a distant

threat, a threat some observers say could draw closer with each escalation.

Xi Jinping is China's most powerful leader since Mao. His vow to bring Taiwan back to the mainland by force if necessary is backed by a massive military and growing nuclear arsenal.


RIPLEY: So again, CNN has confirmed that the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be visiting Taiwan after her stop in Malaysia. This will be happening in the coming days even though it's not on her official public itinerary. We wait to see what China's response will be because there's been so much talk about this. It seems as if they have to do something. So the question is what?

What is the U.S. going to do to make sure that Speaker Pelosi makes it safely to Taipei and how long will she stay here? What is on her agenda? And how will they balance? Here in Taiwan, you know, trying to take China's anger and focus it away from Taipei, but at the same time show support for the United States and be welcoming of one of most powerful lawmakers in the U.S.

Taiwan is in a really awkward situation right now. That's why they've been so quiet about this. But now that we have this information confirmed, we'll see what Taiwan does. They have made it pretty clear that they will welcome Speaker Pelosi however long she decides to visit.

KEILAR: That is very big news. She had gotten to Hawaii, unveiled her travel plans and initially it did not include Taiwan. So this is some big news coming out of the island.

Will, if you would stand by for us since we do have this big news coming out of Taiwan where you are, thank you.

AVLON: Absolutely. And also joining us, CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, huge news from Will and the CNN reporting team in Taiwan. Here's my question. I mean, just a few months ago, we saw a very senior delegation of U.S. senators, Republicans and Democrats including Senator Lindsey Graham, visit Taiwan. So it's not that this is an undiscovered journey. Why is this visit potentially creating such ripples with China?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I think that's a good point. Because people will say, well, other senators have visited in recent months. This isn't as if this is a -- you know, a travel territory for U.S. government officials. But Pelosi is the highest ranking U.S. official who would visit it in 25 years. So you just have her stature which is significant.

And then the fact of her history. She has been incredibly supportive of democratic Taiwan, critical of China, and so China watches everything she says incredibly closely. And then you consider the timing of all this. China is heading into its party congress. Xi is going to be looking to secure a third presidential term. And so domestically, China needs to appear very strong right now. Xi needs to appear very strong right now.

And that is one of the things that concerns the Biden administration because they are fearful that any Chinese response would have to be seen as muscular, as robust, and that's where things could get dicey. That's where miscalculation comes into play potentially.

KEILAR: Because when China looks at this and Nancy Pelosi shows up in Taiwan, what are they worried that Taiwan is taking from this? What do they worry that it might embolden Taiwan to do here in the coming years?


ATWOOD: Right. So when you have Pelosi visiting and speaking with these high level Taiwanese officials, their concern is that it bolsters Taiwan's desire to become actually independent. Not to be this self-governing democracy, but to really be separate from China. That is exactly what China doesn't want.

And I think the thing that U.S. government officials are concerned about here is the fact that China has had a record number of fighter jets go into Taiwanese airspace in the last year. So they could do something like that. They could do something even as severe as trying to close down the airspace around Taiwan. That would be a dramatic escalation. But that's what they're concerned about. A dramatic escalation here that would force the U.S. and potentially Taiwan to then have to respond as well.

AVLON: And, Will, let's go back to you. I mean, you know, Xi has made it very clear that Taiwan is on his near term to-do list. The saber- rattling has increased. The timing of this is interesting as well with right ahead of that party congress that Kylie mentioned. A lot of the Chinese leadership going on vacation together, where a lot of the deals are done. What are the implications for the timing of this visit with regard to China?

RIPLEY: Well, look, Taiwan focuses its China foreign policy entirely on the personality of Xi Jinping. It is really one person that has so much power that you have to wonder how -- what he's going to think about a particular move. So will President Xi be so personally offended that the third in line to the presidency of the United States is on the ground in a place that he considers a province, a breakaway province in Chinese passports?

They list Taiwan as, you know, just like any other province, just like a territory like Hong Kong or Macau. It's right there. Taiwan has had its own government and military for more than 70 years. China and its communist rulers who've never actually controlled that island refuse to accept that. And Xi Jinping now commands a massive military with the largest nuclear arsenal that China has ever had.

And he perhaps feels even more embolden because of his partnership with Russia's Vladimir Putin. These authoritarian strongmen getting together, you know, supporting each other's agenda. So I think there's a growing concern about what China's plan is for Taiwan and when. But I will say this, ahead of the party congress, President Xi is vowing stability. And I don't think that he would be pushing for some sort of a military escalation at this time. But it doesn't mean that he wouldn't have a different point of view just a short while down the road.

AVLON: Big breaking news. Invaluable analysis. Kylie, Will, thank you very much. And we're going to ask the White House about this just ahead.

We've also got President Biden, however, testing positive for COVID again. So what are doctors saying about these so-called rebound cases?

KEILAR: In Kansas, the first state to put abortion on the ballot since Roe v. Wade was overturned. The vote could be close. We're going to break down the numbers.