MAJOR GARRETT: Today on FACE THE NATION: Hurricane Harvey slams into the Texas Gulf Coast and simply will not go away. Historic rainfall totals are forecast and the biggest threat is deadly and damaging flooding. Houston, America's fourth largest city, is feeling the brunt this morning. Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane just north of Corpus Christi late Friday night. With one hundred and thirty mile an hour winds it quickly destroyed houses and buildings, businesses and schools. Many rivers and bayous in southeast Texas are already full but the rain will keep coming. There are at least two confirmed fatalities but emergency officials fear that number will rise and the need for shelter could grow exponentially. Texas Governor Greg Abbott gave a bleak assessment midday Saturday.
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: There is the potential for a very dramatic flooding. For everybody in the state of Texas, your top responsibility is to protect your life.
MAJOR GARRETT: We will have the latest on the disaster and tell you where Harvey now a tropical storm is headed next. We'll get an update from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and from the Trump administration the official overseeing the federal response, White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert. Then we'll turn to what's going on outside of Texas. Late Friday, President Trump pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who defied a federal judge's order to stop racial profiling inside Arizona's most populous county. And in a flurry of late Friday night activity, the President also reinstated a ban on transgender individuals joining the military and fired another controversial advisor. Plus, North Korea test-fired three more missiles while Harvey was making landfall. How will the Trump administration respond? And is our military ready, trained and equipped? A series of Navy and Marine Corps training deaths have raised questions and doubts.
It's all ahead on FACE THE NATION.
Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. John Dickerson is off today. I'm Major Garrett. Tropical Storm Harvey is expected to be further downgraded to a tropical depression later today, but the National Weather Service says rain is expected for five to six days. And storm surge and flooding are already devastating parts of Texas and potentially Louisiana. The Houston police department reports more than a thousand area residents were rescued overnight as more than twenty inches of rain fell, in some areas six inches an hour. Throughout the region, hundreds of thousands are without power. Shelters have been opened up locally and in the cities of Houston, San Antonio and Austin. The National Weather Service reported sixteen confirmed tornadoes as a result of the storm. President Trump is monitoring the situation this weekend at Camp David, but he has been briefed and plans to visit Texas later in the week. Among the areas hardest hit on the Texas Gulf Coast--the city of Victoria. We begin our coverage there with CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez.
MANUEL BOJORQUEZ (CBS News National Correspondent/@BojorquezCBS): In just twenty-four hours, Victoria received more than a foot of rain. That's nearly half of what it normally receives in a year. And the downpour is not expected to stop for days.
MANUEL BOJORQUEZ: Mourning came to southeast Texas but relief did not. Officials warned the steady rainfall from the stalled system could result in flooding that is both prolonged and catastrophic. Last night, Houston's chief of police live-streamed video of himself chasing people off the streets.
MAN: Stay in your homes. Do not try to come out here on your own.
MANUEL BOJORQUEZ: Houston is still getting pounded and first responders worked through the night as rivers overflowed their banks. Where Harvey came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane; Rockport, Texas became ground zero for even more destruction. Out at sea, the Coast Guard has already rescued dozens and Texas' major shipping ports are expected to remain closed for days to come. For those stranded in the storm's path, the ordeal is only beginning. Here in Victoria, Angela Manzano (ph) was unable to evacuate when ordered.
ANGELA MANZANO: People were just, like, judging people for not leaving but they don't know the situation. Some people couldn't go. It was hard. There's nowhere to go.
MANUEL BOJORQUEZ: Most of Victoria remains without power and with no running water. By the time the storm is over, some parts of southeast Texas could receive several more feet of rain.
MAJOR GARRETT: We want to go now to CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann in Houston. Mark, tell us where you are in Houston and what is the situation?
MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Correspondent): A little more than a day into this, Major, and the city is already in crisis. I'm standing in downtown Houston of I-10 behind me and you cannot get there from here because of flash flooding like this. And you'll find this flash flooding are all over the city. Many parts of the city are now islands, completely surrounded by water. The rainfall totals are staggering. You have six inches in an hour. Fourteen inches in three hours. Up to thirty inches in twenty-four hours and the forecast and the rain say it's just going to keep coming. There have been hundreds of rescues already. And in fact, the Coast Guard has now launched urban search and rescue operations. And remember, we're just a little more than a day into Harvey and this is the response that the city already needs.
MAJOR GARRETT: And if I understand--
MARK STRASSMANN: The area is under a flood emergency and there are-- people are being urged to stay inside, Major, high and dry, find that ground wherever you can.
MAJOR GARRETT: But as someone who once lived in Houston, I know when the flood waters rise high and dry isn't really practicable. There aren't places that are high and dry. You have to go some place. Are we talking about a prolonged rescue operation in the city of Houston that could go on for days?
MARK STRASSMANN: I don't see how they can avoid it at this point. The response already is hundred of rescues. The Coast Guard is here. I mean, what else are they going to do? This is only going to get worse over the next couple of days. Another foot of rain is in the forecast. We already have reports, Major, of people calling 911 saying we've climbed into the attic to escape rising waters. And the response from the police chief is, you better have an axe to take into the attic to punch through the roof in case you need to. So, yeah, I think this is going to be a response of-- an emergency response of rescues that goes on well into mid week.
MAJOR GARRETT: You mentioned that Interstate 10 behind you, for those who familiar with the Houston geography, that's the major east-west interstate. I-45 is the major north-south interstate. Is it really the situation now that Houston as far as vehicle traffic is impassable except for the largest, most well-equipped rescue vehicles?
MARK STRASSMANN: I think it's safe to say that it's a-- it's a smart idea to stay off the roads unless you absolutely have to. The roads are-- are spotty and the conditions do change but, yes, if you are driving on certain parts of the highway, you are really going to have trouble. I haven't heard the latest about highway closures but I can tell you driving downtown-- if and this is any indication, to get from point A to point B, you have to-- you have to do a loopy-loop all over the place and that is going to become a standard practice here in Houston over the next couple of days.
MAJOR GARRETT: Mark Strassmann in Houston, we thank you very much for your time.
We want to go now to Austin, Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott is overseeing the evolving and ongoing state response to the storm. Governor, thanks very much for joining us. Tell us if you can what the situation is in Houston and what you fear in the next few hours with the continued rain and rising flood waters?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT (R-Texas; @GovAbbott): Well, this appears to be either the worst or one of the worst floods Houston has ever had. We are measuring it not in inches but in feet. As you probably have seen, there are countless water rescues. Our first and foremost focus at this particular time is saving lives. And so we are working on as many water rescues as we possibly can and trying to find ways to get people out of harm's way.
MAJOR GARRETT: Do you have a sense, Governor, of the population that is in distress and how many boats, how many helicopters, how many resource you're going to need to move how many people to higher ground and safer terrain?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Well, I-- I saw one report that I cannot confirm that there may be as many as ten million people under flash flood warnings who could be in-- in harm's way. What I do know as far as the rescue is concerned is that both Harris County and the city of Houston have multiple assets that are being used. The state of Texas overnight has provided high profile military vehicles that will be manned by the National Guard. We are also providing water rescue boats as well as helicopters. Both the state and local agencies are providing every resource possible to make sure that we can rescue everybody in need.
MAJOR GARRETT: Will this be an all of Texas effort, Governor, meaning resources from all over the state and other states brought to bear?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Yes. This is an all-in, all-resource across the state of Texas. Moments ago I spoke with the Harris County judge who is chief administrator for Harris County talking about more assets the state of Texas can be providing. I'm proud to say that we've been receiving so many offers of help from all of our neighboring states; New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana, even as far away as Governor Cuomo in New York, is-- is providing resource for us and so we're very appreciative of our fellow states as well as what the federal government has done. I got to tell you the Trump administration has provided us everything that we need.
MAJOR GARRETT: I used to live in Houston and I know that the bayous, once they are filled with water, there is nowhere for the water to go. That's the situation Houston finds itself in right now. You have a rescue operation that is mandatory and crucial but you are going to have a sheltering operation soon. Do you have the capacity to shelter all the people you fear you might need to take to higher ground, Governor?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Right. It's-- it's those bayous that rise up. And because of the ongoing rain in the coming days, that may be a challenge that will go unabated for a while. You are correct, there will be enormous needs for sheltering of people. And so we appreciate all the help that is coming in. People want to help out by doing things like donating. The best thing they can do is call 1-800-RED-CROSS or-- or go to RedCross.org. But we-- we are working as we speak in assembling all the shelters for people who can go to them who need them.
MAJOR GARRETT: Do you foresee a need possibly to bring in stadium-like settings for those or arena-like settings for those who may need shelter for a prolonged period of time, Governor?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: I missed what you said. Did you say arena or stadium type?
MAJOR GARRETT: Yes. For shelter.
ABBOTT: Yeah, sure. Sure. We have multiple shelter locations. And in fact we-- we've had shelter locations pre-prepared in advance of this arrayed in multiple regions across the state of Texas. I've visited some in San Antonio and Austin and other places. And so we-- we believe that because of our preparedness for this a week in advance that we will have adequate sheltering.
And-- and we are just asking for as many resources as we can get. We're very appreciative to HEB, to Walmart for what they have been providing to people here in the state of Texas. But this is typical Texas. And that is we're challenged all the time. And Texans come together to support our fellow Texans. And we are resilient. And we will overcome this. It's just going to take us a few days to overcome it.
MAJOR GARRETT: After Katrina the U.S. military came in and brought substantial logistics, supply movement and order. Do you foresee any circumstance, Governor, where you might request that kind of effort to assist you?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: We'll have to wait and see. The-- the collaboration of-- of the professionals in Houston and Harris County combined with the assets the state is providing have it covered for now. We'll have to see where it goes from here. There are different weather predictions. One is that this storm could hover over the Houston area for a couple of days.
If so, this-- this could get even worse. But we will take it step by step. But also, remember this. Let's-- let's not forget what we are doing at the same time. And-- and let's not forget the people who were in harm's way just a couple of days ago where the hurricane hit. And we are involved in search and rescue missions along the-- the coastline. Places like Rockport, Aransas Pass, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi. And so we're doing two things at once. But right now we are capable of-- of achieving all of that.
MAJOR GARRETT: And before I let you go, Governor, real quickly, what are the casualty totals that you've been made aware of and how are those first hit areas on the coast doing?
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Right. I've seen reports of-- of some casualties. Only one report that I've heard of in-- in the Gulf Coast region where the hurricane hit. And I've seen some reports out of Harris County. But I am not capable at this time of confirming those reports and those casualties were as a result of the storms. We will just need to wait and see. All we're focused on right now is not reports like that. But we're doing everything we can to save every life we can.
MAJOR GARRETT: Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, thank you very much for your time.
GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT: Thank you.
MAJOR GARRETT: And we'll be back in one minute to hear from a top White House official about what the Trump administration is doing at the federal level.
MAJOR GARRETT: We turn now to White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert. He's overseeing the White House response to Hurricane Harvey in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security. Those two agencies obviously are in charge of the federal response. Thomas, great to see you. Thanks for joining us.
TOM BOSSERT (Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor; @TomBossert45): Thanks Garrett. Good morning.
MAJOR GARRETT: So we have a serious situation in Houston and it's evolving by the hour. How serious is it, are we talking about hours ahead that could be both deadly and on an ongoing basis requiring massive intervention in terms of rescuing and sheltering.
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah. I think you said it just right. So what we're focusing on now is saving lives and that's rightly so right. That's the case. But what we're here involved in is a marathon. And so I think there's two messages for me today. The first is that we're focused on life safety operations and the second is that we're not going to lose our focus as the next days and weeks unfold and people need continued assistance.
MAJOR GARRETT: Now there have been complimentary messages exchanged between the governor and federal government, you know those are premature, it's no time to be patting anyone on the back. This is an ongoing and deadly situation. Houston was not evacuated. There was not even a general voluntary evacuation order. Was that a mistake and does that now put a lot more people in peril than otherwise would have been?
TOM BOSSERT: So, it's not premature if you do it the right way. And so let me make a case for that statement. This governor has demonstrated great leadership. His emergency manager, Nim Kidd, has demonstrated a great deal of experience and calm. And what the tow of them did was get together to ask for an unprecedented degree of federal support prior to landfall, something that we haven't seen before. And what Brock Long at FEMA did and myself and the President, we got together and reviewed that carefully and decided on Friday night that the President would issue a major disaster before landfall. Now, what's important about that is it freed up federal resource, but it also freed up those federal resources for the individuals affected. That's the unprecedented nature. Generally what we'll do is provide money and assistance to those governments so that they can do what they have to do to save lives, and then we'll wait later and give money to the individuals as need demonstrates itself and presents itself. What we did is said, no, we're going to provide that-- that assistance to the individuals as well and any additional counties that require that assistance, those individuals or the-- or the public, they will get that and the FEMA director has the authority to add it.
MAJOR GARRETT: My point thought was that-- that's generalized assistance. What maters is how it translates on the ground--
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: --and you've got tremendous amount of work ahead.
TOM BOSSERT: One of the things that we have to do is make sure that the people on the ground know that they will be no impediments above them so they don't have to make any prior-- prior authorization decision. So if there is a competition for limited resources they make bad decisions. What we do is make sure they of all the resources they need so they can make decisions based on the best interests of the individual they're trying to help and save. So that's where we are today. The second part of your question was, let's not lose our focus on how bad this still is. Some news coverage outlets not yours are reporting that this is being downgraded and it's less of an event, it's just a storm now. That's a mistake. We're going to see continued rain, upwards of thirty inches. I don't think people understand what thirty inches of rain. I-- I don't understand. I've been around dozens and dozens of major disasters and hurricanes, hundreds of disasters, I've never seen thirty inches of rain. So what we're going to do is pay attention to this, watch the inland flooding unfold, make sure we take care of the people with their food, water and shelter needs, and then we're going to posture ourselves for the long-term care of the medical needy, of the elderly, of the weak. And then we'll put ourselves in the position to provide the resources to rebuild and recover. And so that's-- that's our priority right now.
MAJOR GARRETT: The President has been active on Twitter. Explain to our viewers what else the President has been doing on an hour and hour basis?
TOM BOSSERT: Well, among other things, he's been talking to me and Brock Long and his acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke. Yesterday, we had two hour long almost conversation with his entire cabinet all of the senior leadership team. The President was actively involved in that making sure operations were coordinated unsticking any disagreements of which there were none at this stage. The vice president was very actively involved in that. In fact, the vice president and the President have both called me in the last twelve hours probably dozen times, each. So, what he's doing is making sure that we're coordinating. And so what I liken in this too is a race, we're off and out of the blocks the right way. That's because of strong preparedness and strong leadership. But now we have to run that race and then we have to finish that race well.
MAJOR GARRETT: So what are you most anxious about in the next twenty-four hours?
TOM BOSSERT: Well, it's not a regular race. It's relay race. There's a lot of moving parts. So there's a lot of effort, but we have to unify that effort into one direction. And so what I'm worried about is that we don't drop the baton. With this relay race, we have mayors and governors and Presidents and cabinet secretaries and nongovernmental officials. I think there were nine hundred Red Cross volunteers yesterday when the vice president talked to the head of the Red Cross. I think we have three thousand people in shelters. Those are in churches and nongovernmental organizations that are sponsoring those things. So what we have to worry about is not dropping the ball of coordination. All the resources are there. Now let's make sure we apply them in a way to help the people and not worry about the governments.
MAJOR GARRETT: Oftentimes when communications are interrupted, the military can step in with stand up communication, can provide logistics, can provide lifts to get supplies to place. Do you foresee any circumstances if this rain continues and basically sits over the greater Houston area that you might need to go in that direction?
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah. That's-- that's the big concern. So, while there's been a thousand rescue operations, now we have to figure out how to gain access into places that are flooded with cloud cover. We can't always use helicopters, sometimes we have to use ground assets. And so what we need to do is deliver commodities. Now here is what I tend to tell people. The way we deliver commodities, the federal government is in the-- in the wholesale business and state and local governments, they're in the retail business. So we might drop off millions and millions of liters of water at an air force base which we've done or at different distribution centers, the states have to take that water or the other commodities involved meals and they push it down into the local communities and then distribute it to the people who need it. And so that distribution effort requires a lot of time, coordination and logistics expertise and that's what Brock Long is bringing to the table.
MAJOR GARRETT: Before we leave this topic to talk about other issues, how do you do that when the water is twelve inches high, eighteen inches high, four feet high, do you have enough boats, do you have enough basic equipment to talk about this distribution chain you just described because if you don't I'm not sure how people get to where they need to get.
TOM BOSSERT: So the men and women at FEMA coordinate the men and women across our government, federal, state and local and I have every bit of confidence in every single one of those men and women. Now what they will do is exert their best effort. What we'll see now are people that thought, well, maybe I'll hunker down for a day or two and then when the storm passes, I'll be okay. The problem now they're finding is they open up their door and they're flooded and they're going to be in their home for another two, three, four, five days. Now they realize I'm in trouble and I have to get out. So what we're doing now isn't just informing them, now I'd like to influence and inspire, okay. So to influence them, there are messages going out by responsible emergency managers for instance to tell people in serious flood harm in the path of these rising waters to not just go to the second floor of their home. You end up trapped up there, you end up trapped in your attic, you want to get out of your home. If you have to, get on to your roof if the water levels are that high. But make sure you find a way to get out of that home and don't try to stick out a bad decision. To fix a bad haircut, you don't keep cutting. Make sure that you take advantage of the resources that are there. And the men and women of the federal government, state and local governments and all the volunteers will come together. That's really what makes America great right now.
MAJOR GARRETT: Before the President signed his major disaster declaration, he pardoned Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. In what way does that pardon reinforced the President's support that he always calls for, for law and order?
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: What is law and order about pardoning a sheriff who was contempted-- who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a federal court order?
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah. I think the President weighed the totality of the circumstances and the sheriff's history of service both in the military and to the law enforcement community and decided that the eighty something year old man with his history and record of service deserved clemency at this point. That was a very unique and personal decision the President took. And he made that decision on Friday night. I don't think that took up more than a minute of his time on Friday night because having talked to him I--
MAJOR GARRETT: But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he did that to hide the pardon because Hurricane Harvey was such an important news event.
TOM BOSSERT: No. Well, he's clearly wrong.
MAJOR GARRETT: And when you say weigh the totality of experiences, Senator McCain and others have said this contradicts the rule of law--that there is no totality of circumstances. The President in minimum should have let the process play itself out. And I believe that was the advice he received from White House lawyers.
TOM BOSSERT: Yeah.
MAJOR GARRETT: Why didn't he?
TOM BOSSERT: No. I understand that that's their position, and I have a great deal of respect for Senator McCain and others, but clearly clemency is within the body of law that he's referring to and the President and other Presidents have that legal authority to issue that kind clemency. And he did. And as I made a point earlier today to some other questioners, this is something that previous Presidents have done. It's always quite controversial when this happens. There's legitimate questions, but at this point it's pretty straight forward.
MAJOR GARRETT: White House Homeland security advisor Tom Bossert, I know you're focused on the hurricane, thank you very much for coming in and updating our audience.
TOM BOSSERT: Thank you, Major.
MAJOR GARRETT: We'll be back in a moment. Please, stay with us.
MAJOR GARRETT: For latest on politics, policy and pop culture, be sure to listen to the take out podcast hosted by CBS News political director Steve Chaggaris and not incidentally, me. New episode are available every Friday morning on Apple podcast, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify or you can also listen at TakeOutPodcast.com. And we'll be back in a moment.
MAJOR GARRETT: We will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. I don't need to tell you. There's a lot of news in addition to Hurricane Harvey. We have plenty of analysis on that coming up. Please, stay with us.
MAJOR GARRETT: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We turn now to foreign policy and a crucial question of military readiness. We are joined by the former national security advisor under President Obama, Tom Donilon and the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired admiral James "Sandy" Winnefeld, who I'm happy to say, is now also a CBS News military and Homeland Security advisor. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us. Sandy, I want to begin with you. I want to read to you something that was from a memorandum issued by the United States Navy after the USS McCain episode. A fatal episode, the second in the last six weeks. It said in part, the two deadly collisions, I just referred to, quote, "are not limited occurrences but part of a disturbing trend of mishaps involving U.S. warships." I also want to read to you something from the government accounting office report of 2015, "The high pace of operations that the Navy uses for overseas-homeportaged ships limits dedicated training and maintenance period-- periods, which has resulted in difficulty keeping crews fully trained and ships maintained." Admiral, can you tell our audience what's going on here? Is this a systemic problem and do the families of U.S. sailors have to believe that their loved ones are in peril simply by doing their jobs?
ADMIRAL JAMES "SANDY" WINNEFELD (Retired/Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): Well, first of all, Major, our hearts reach out to the families of those sailors. They were doing something they loved, they were doing something extremely important and their loss saddens us all. In the Pacific, it's-- it's a very unique situation. These are some of the most high leverage naval forces that we have in the country. To create the equivalent presence that these ships provide by being based out there, you'd have to have three or four ships back in the United States. They also got the very best stuff, our newest and latest and greatest equipment. But, they're also our hardest working ships in the Navy. They have a very high operational tempo. Their maintenance is very stretched, some of their basic training that they would need to operate out there is very stretched sometimes, because they're out there on the leading edge of the spear.
MAJOR GARRETT: Are they overtaxed?
ADMIRAL JAMES "SANDY" WINNEFELD: Well, the Navy is obviously based on the memo that you read. They're going to look very deeply into that question. It's a very valid question. It's one of the most dangerous operating environments in the world where the USS McCain had her collision is one of the most-- I've operated there, I've taken a ship through there at night. It's like operating on a superhighway except there aren't any overpasses and nobody is obeying the stop signs. But at least it's pitch black. But that's no excuses. That's why we have to have the best trained people we possibly can out there and the Navy's going to look very closely at that question.
MAJOR GARRETT: And just at a simple basic level, Admiral, how can two of the most prized vessels in the United States Navy, both of them with hugely important strategic missions, be off line for year and a half, we lose seventeen sailors, wasn't anyone paying attention? I mean, this seems so basic?
ADMIRAL JAMES "SANDY" WINNEFELD: Sure, the-- a collision without having the benefit of all the details of the investigation, we have to let that run its course, can be a result of human error or a material failure or some combination of the two. There are some indications I think that perhaps one of the collisions was human error and the other might have had a material component to it. But it does wrap into your larger question and that is is the funding out there, right? Do they have the right amount of downtime for maintenance, for training? And the Navy's going to dig into that question, because it's very important for-- for not only these families but for the families of every sailor in the Navy that we get this right.
MAJOR GARRETT: And the USS McCain episode, hacking, do that play any role? Do you have any knowledge or belief about that?
ADMIRAL JAMES "SANDY" WINNEFELD: They will look very closely at all aspects of that. They include it in an accident investigation these days, because hacking is so prominent. I would be very reluctant to suggest that that would be the case in this matter but it certainly has to get looked at.
MAJOR GARRETT: Tom Donilon, talking to you now about Afghanistan, the President's speech on Monday, your initial reaction to it and do you believe it is wise for the President to focus as he said, not on nation building but on counter-terrorism operations and it sounds like special operators and the CIA are going to have a big footprint in this expansion of forces, whatever number that ultimately turns out to be.
TOM DONILON (Former National Security Advisor): Major, I want to say one thing following on Admiral Winnefeld's point to-- the-- the Navy is a high accountability organization. And we certainly owe it to our men and women in the Navy to-- to get to the bottom of this, and make sure their resources and training that they-- that they need and deserve and Asia is really key, obviously, strategically for the United States and the Navy is a big part of our presence in our strategy in Asia. On Afghanistan, the President's speech laid out the same goals that have been laid out really by the last two presidents, Presidents Bush 43 and President Obama. I think the strategies are basically the same going forward here. There's some increase in the-- in the number of troops, I don't know the exact number yet but some increase in the number of troops and there'll be some change in the rules of engagement. It's been laid out by the President and Secretary Tillerson said (cross talk).
MAJOR GARRETT: And more assets probably brought to the table as well.
TOM DONILON: Yeah. And-- but it's-- but it's essentially the same-- the same strategy-- same strategy at this point. I mean, if you look at the elements that were discussed, aggressive counter-terrorism efforts, that has been the strategy of the United States for years in South Asia and in-- and in Afghanistan. You know, we-- we-- during the Obama administration had-- had an effort there with a hundred and fifty thousand troops, including a hundred thousand American troops, a regional approach, correct, I think and concept, but it's been the approach that the United States has taken. Diplomatic aspect of this is important, the military aspect and going after the safe harbors and leaning on safe havens, and leaning on-- leaning on Pakistan, all part of the strategy we've had today. What you really have here, I think, is a declaration of an open-ended strategy and open-ended commitment to carry on a counter-terrorism effort in-- in South Asia. Some increase in troops, trying to stop the momentum of Taliban, trying to go after the safe havens as I said, but essentially have an-- kind of an ongoing open-ended counter-terrorism campaign here to protect the country.
MAJOR GARRETT: And when the White House described this they said, well, it's new because there's no timetable for withdrawal, that's important. They thought that was an important distinction vis-a-vis the Obama administration. And also said, we're not going to describe conditions but we'll know what progress looks like.
TOM DONILON: It's an open-ended commitment. With respect to the-- with respect to the conditions-based versus the time-based point that the President made, we've been in Afghanistan sixteen years. We-- this has not been an effort that has lacked persistence or commitment and the President is recommitted to it. And, indeed, before President Obama left office in 2015, he indicated and decided that, in fact, the United States would not withdraw all its troops given the conditions on the ground in-- in Afghanistan. So we have here I think a really continue-- fundamental continuation of the strategy on an open-ended basis. One thing that they didn't mentioned, by the way, Major, which I wanted to-- which I wanted mention is that I'm very concerned in Afghanistan about the role the Russians are playing. General Nicholson, as Winnefeld knows has said a couple of times now that he worries about the Russians supplying arms to the Taliban, that directly (cross talk)--
MAJOR GARRETT: All the White House will say is it's not being helpful.
TOM DONILON: Well, it's not-- it's-- it's a lot--
MAJOR GARRETT: You're saying it's much worse than that.
TOM DONILON: It's a lot more serious than not being helpful, you know, it's-- it's a violation of-- of Security Council resolutions, right, you know. And it is-- it's-- it's arming the enemy of our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. It's very serious matter I think we should be much more aggressive about confronting.
MAJOR GARRETT: Admiral Winnefeld, when you become a CBS consultant, you have to deal with hard breaks and short compressions of time. So in thirty seconds, is Afghanistan winnable and is this a strategy that can help achieve that?
ADMIRAL JAMES "SANDY" WINNEFELD: I think it's really important to understand that the President said we're going to win in Afghanistan. And asking that question, what does winning mean. That can be seen at two levels. Winning if you look at the overall objective for our presence there is prevention of attacks on the United States originating from that region, which we've successful done for the last sixteen years, and that's the open-ended nature that Tom was talking about. We don't know when this is going to end. It's hard to put a hard stop on it but the-- the principle objective of presenting-- preventing attacks on the United States emanating from that region is there. Now, does that mean transforming Afghanistan fundamentally as a nation? That is a tough problem. That means winning a counter-insurgency, it means fixing a corrupt government, it means getting the region more stabilized, and that's going to be a much harder project.
MAJOR GARRETT: Former Vice Admiral "Sandy" Winnefeld, thank you very much for your time. Tom Donilon, always great to see you. Thanks very much for your expertise. We'll be right back with our political panel.
MAJOR GARRETT: And we are back with our political panel. Allow me to introduce them to you now. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Ben Domenech is publisher of The Federalist. We're also joined by national editor for the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter. And Clarence Page, columnist and senior member of the editorial board at the Chicago Tribune. Thank you very much for joining us. Susan, let me start with you. We could do an entire panel on just the three hours Friday night of last week from 8:00 P.M. to 11 P.M. But we'll broaden it a little bit from there. But let's start with that Friday night. Transgender military policy communicated to the Pentagon and a pardon for Maricopa County Sheriff Jeff-- Joe Arpaio. I won't ask you about the legalisms, just what do you think is the political long-term affect of both of those decisions from the President, will they last and linger?
SUSAN PAGE (USA Today; @SusanPage): You know, I think it is quite remarkable and more of importance than our usual discussion about the latest provocative tweet that the President has posted because it goes to actual policy. It goes to policy at the Pentagon, it goes to policy on pardon powers that we may see over and over again in this-- in this presidency, that's entirely possible. And I think that's one reason we saw a bigger reaction from some key Republicans including the House speaker, Paul Ryan, than we have in the past. I do think this is different.
MAJOR GARRETT: Ben, how do you assess the pardon of Sheriff Joe?
BEN DOMENECH (The Federalist; @bdomenech): I think this was sending a message to the President's base. I mean, it's basically saying I'm going to take this figure who for you is a significant figure, even if they don't have the necessary sort of national profile and I'm going to make it clear that I'm with-- with you in regards to this figure. But what surprised me a little bit was the timing of this. I felt like the President might have kept this in his back pocket for a little bit longer, and use it at some point in order to make up for some failure of a legislative argument within the context of the border wall or another issue that might have come forward in the coming months. The fact that he used it now I think is just a sign that, you know, to his base, that I'm with you, I'm going to defend the people that you like, and damn the media and all the-- the missiles that they throw at me.
MAJOR GARRETT: Clarence, the President said in Reno that we need to come together and unify around common values.
CLARENCE PAGE (Chicago Tribune/@cptime): Mm-Mm.
MAJOR GARRETT: What do you think that Joe Arpaio pardon when you combine it with the speech he gave before Reno in Phoenix, where he talked again about-- he didn't mean to reopen the wounds but many of those remarks were interpreted as reopening the wounds of Charlottesville. How do you think the pardon of Joe Arpaio, someone who was with then citizen Trump in the birther movement--
CLARENCE PAGE: Right.
MAJOR GARRETT: --and then was defying a federal court order about racial profiling, how does that play? How does that influence the credibility of what the President was talking about in Reno?
CLARENCE PAGE: Well, this is what we're calling-- starting to call a Tuesday-Thursday move. You know, this President was reasonable this week on Monday and Wednesday, a model of reasonableness and leadership and-- and unity, and then was a model of disunity as far as Tuesday and Thursday were concerned. It's-- he's done the same thing the night of his election that was time to bring the country together and all. He has occasionally done that, but as we've also seen he has basically been a base-oriented President who cares about-- about his political base and you're absolutely right that he sends a signal to his base with the Arpaio move. But back in Chicago, we'd say this is good example of-- of gangsta politics. He's sending a signal to anybody who might want to snitch on him or testify against him that, hey, I'm-- I'm going to protect you, I'm going to watch out for my people. I am loyal to my people. And I'll-- I'll pardon Joe Arpaio. I will pardon other people if I want to do it. And, the Republicans give good lip service to opposing him but they care about their agenda, too. They need him too much right now. And so he's getting away with it at this point. And the question is, how long will he get away with it.
MAJOR GARRETT: Are you suggesting that among the most interested parties, Friday night was Mike Flynn?
CLARENCE PAGE: I think he would be one of them. And there are others out there. We just don't know, that's why you have investigations to find out what's really going on. President Trump right now has-- has gotten in the way of that investigation, in a way that-- that really echoes what-- what James Comey says he was told, you know, that, hey, I care about loyalty, et cetera, et cetera. So it's not looking good for the President in the long run right now.
MAJOR GARRETT: Amy, let's talk about the legislative agenda such as it is. There's some important basic governing tasks that need to be accomplished in the month of September raising the debt ceiling, funding the government to avoid a shut down. And right before that, you not only have Arpaio and all these other things, you have a persistent effort with the President criticizing publicly, I think the-- the last count is one fifth of the Senate Republican conference via Twitter.
AMY WALTER (Cook Political Report/@amyewalter): Right. That's not a-- that's not a traditional way to build.
MAJOR GARRETT: That is not necessary what most politicians--
AMY WALTER: Yes.
MAJOR GARRETT: --would regard as a team-building exercise.
AMY WALTER: No. But-- but I think what-- what we saw this weekend, what we continue to see from this presidency, this is an isolated President. This is a guy who ran as I alone can fix this. But it is lot easier to campaign as I alone, and it-- it was a message I think that resonated with a lot of folks who were frustrated about the dysfunction in Washington, frustrated about institutions that they felt had let them down.
MAJOR GARRETT: (INDISTINCT) thought maybe it's possible.
AMY WALTER: That's right. He's a business guy who's been able to create things. He can come in with a fresh perspective and shake up Washington. Well, he's been able to do that, but the I alone presidency, it's much more difficult than the I-- the I alone candidacy. And so, the question I think for whole bunch of voter-- we're going to-- we don't know the answer to this yet. But as we go through there are going to be these checkmarks or, you know, sort of semester grades. The first semester grade is the midterm elections. Are voters-- do they believe that this system has worked for them. Do they believe that this way of doing business, yes, it's different, yes, it's norm-busting, yes, it's chaotic but it's actually resulting in something that they like to see. We're not-- we don't quite have the answer to that. But it's clear that we're going to see this over and over again. One more thing about the isolating piece, too, what's interesting about Arpaio is that again this is isolating the President in some ways, too. You're-- he's getting hit on the left on immigration and the racial profiling that Arpaio was noted for. And so that is where the left is-- is hitting him on the right. It's the idea of the President thumbing his nose at the constitution, right. This was a sheriff who disregarded a judge's orders and is getting pardoned for doing so. So he finds himself where he's always been, which is a man unto himself.
BEN DOMENECH: But let's be clear about what's really going on when it comes to legislative agenda and-- and agreement with Amy on-- on all of her points. You saw this past week, the placing of stories, a number of different stories from Mitch McConnell and his-- and his fellow travelers that clearly teed up a narrative about what's going to happen in September. Which is a narrative of, we can't do X because the President is crazy or uncontrollable or something like that. Mitch McConnell has led in the Senate for years, use-- have-- always having some villain to point to. It was the Tea Party or it was Ted Cruz. We have to do this thing that I don't really want to do because this aspect is forcing us to do it. He's putting Trump in that position right now. And it's teeing up a situation where he's going to go to the body in the Senate and basically say, well, I don't really-- really want to do this deal or I don't like this aspect of it. I share your negative opinion of it but we have to do it because the President is the President.
MAJOR GARRETT: And to that point, Susan, isn't there co-vilification going on, the President--
SUSAN PAGE: Co-vilification?
MAJOR GARRETT: --telling-- telling the country via Twitter Mitch McConnell is weak and he doesn't understand the rules of the Senate because if he did he'd go to fifty-one votes on all legislation not just high profile judicial nominees, exempting the Supreme Court. He's creating a fallback position of blame as well. Is he not?
SUSAN PAGE: So the vilification is by the Republican leader of the Senate and the Republican president and to some degree the Republican speaker of the house and, you know, what that tells you is when you look at the legislative agenda, nobody runs for president saying, I'll raise the debt ceiling or I'll-- I'll fund the government so it doesn't have to shut down, right? Those are-- that's a level of-- that's kind of a given. Not maybe a given this time, assume that-- that Mitch McConnell and-- and Paul Ryan are going to work together to make sure those two things happen. But what about the larger agenda that President Trump laid out? I think there are very-- I think the prospects for tax reform go down every single minute just ticking down, the idea that they'll get back to health care in a way that is consistent with what President Trump campaigned on as a candidate, I think is not maybe zero yet but it's getting to that point.
MAJOR GARRETT: Well, Clarence, they don't even talk about it at the White House anymore with any regularity, reviving the replace and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. They just sort of, I mean, they-- they may occasionally remember, oh, throw that talking point in there, but it's not part of the structural conversation at all. And tax reform we had the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin briefing in Friday saying I told you a long time ago it would be done by August, clearly I was wrong. And he was very, very careful--
CLARENCE PAGE: He also said we're going to lift the debt-- debt ceiling too.
MAJOR GARRETT: He said no problem. That's going to be done.
CLARENCE PAGE: Right.
MAJOR GARRETT: So maybe he knows something we don't know. But at least on tax reform he's now much more cautious and much more hesitant about making any kind of predictions.
CLARENCE PAGE: As he should be. You know, I mean, look at the tax debates we always have, you know, don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that guy behind that tree, you know, that's still true. And it's very complicated debate, probably more complicated than health care at this point and at the same time, President Trump is engaging in these orders that will appeal to his base, and they doesn't need Congress for either executive orders or, you know, the parting of Arpaio and I was talking with a couple-- couple of Trump supporters who were just delighted with him. Look at all that he's accomplishing in office while me and my colleagues talk about look at all that he's not accomplishing as far as major legislation goes. So that's why his numbers are still doing above--
MAJOR GARRETT: Ben, do you think there is an important disconnect that we are in Washington tend to either miss entirely or overlook at our peril?
BEN DOMENECH: Well, I think that in-- in the context of this broader debate, the real issue here is culture. The-- I think that--
MAJOR GARRETT: That's the backdrop.
BEN DOMENECH: Trump has sort of-- has delivered to his supporters an argument about the American-- about American culture, that they find very appealing. I think you saw that this week in the-- the fact that you had this embrace of this conversation about statutes and monuments as opposed to a conversation about racial, radicals or things-- things like that. The fact that-- that so much of the conversation shifted to cities and-- and towns that wanted to take down various confederate monuments or even, you know, the-- the conversation that Bill de Blasio is having in-- in New York right now about getting rid of the statue of Christopher Columbus, that's a win for President Trump. That's a win for his people, the fact that this conversation is even happening because they view him as a defender of their perspective on American culture.
MAJOR GARRETT: To that point, Amy, the President said in Phoenix the media is trying to take away our history and our culture.
AMY WALTER: Right.
MAJOR GARRETT: Direct accusation.
AMY WALTER: This is-- this again-- everything that people around this table said wasn't going to work for Donald Trump as candidate, he defied all of the normal political-- right the political norms, the political advice and he won, so why should he listen to what anybody here in Washington has to tell him. I absolutely get that. The-- the challenge right now, though is, he's not on the ballot in 2018. It's his party that's on the ballot in 2018. And when the President says, Congress is worthless, they're not getting it done, they're not pushing the agenda. What it says to Republican voters is, why should I bother showing up to vote, right? Because the President, who I do like and has his own brand and does his own thing, we can talk about whether-- he's been successful in shaking up Washington culturally defending me, he's doing all the right things, Congress isn't. So I'm not going to turn out and vote and that's a problem.
MAJOR GARRETT: Are we seeing any of that in Alabama in the special election for the United States Senate to replace Jeff Sessions?
AMY WALTER: Right. This is this really awkward place that Luther Strange who's the sitting incumbent finds himself-- he's both a-- supported by Mitch McConnell and President Trump. Now there's been some reporting that Trump now seeing that the race is maybe not a slam dunk for the guy that he endorsed might not be as active in promoting him as we move on the President doesn't like to lose. So he can distance himself a little bit. But this battle between the establishment-- anti-establishment, this was going on long before Donald Trump. Right? This has been this Tea Party debate that's has been raging for a long time now. The question is, what happens-- does his party then become a separate brand from Donald Trump? And that we don't know how that works.
MAJOR GARRETT: Amy Walter, we'll have lot more with our panel on a moment. Please stay with us.
MAJOR GARRETT: Welcome back to our outstanding political panel; Susan Page, Ben Domenech, Clarence Page, Amy Walter.
Susan, the President gave a speech on Afghanistan Monday in which he did something he hardly ever does. Said it went against my instincts, what I told you for years as a private citizen and on the campaign trail was wrong, we need to stay in Afghanistan and here is why. Is that in itself an important moment of evolution for our commander in chief?
SUSAN PAGE: Yeah, it may be. Because he listened to advisors around him and he did something, and he did not rebuke President Obama to get out of Afghanistan as he had promised to do during the campaign. He rebuked President Obama in doubling down our commitment to Afghanistan that removed the timetable for withdrawal. The move-- the idea that there-- there is some moment we're going to be out of Afghanistan, and in fact, I think there is now every possibility that we'll have thousands of U.S. troops there throughout the Trump administration, when he leaves office, this longest war will go into a fourth president's agenda.
MAJOR GARRETT: Thirty seconds Ben.
BEN DOMENECH: This is just a, I think a sign to a lot of supporters of President Trump that, you know, in Washington the swamp drains you. And this-- and the reality here is that his policy when it comes to Afghanistan is really very-- very little different than what we've seen under Hillary Clinton.
MAJOR GARRETT: That might be the quotable quote of this panel. In Washington the swamp drains you, you don't drain the swamp. I want to thank our panel and let you know we will be right back.
MAJOR GARRETT: That's it for us today. We will have continuing coverage of Hurricane Harvey on CBS News. Stay with us now for a special report. The mayor of Houston has just held a news conference and tonight DeMarco Morgan will anchor the weekend news tonight from Houston. And CBS THIS MORNING co-host Norah O'Donnell will anchor from Houston tomorrow morning. Thank you for watching FACE THE NATION. I'm Major Garrett.