Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Path Forward for Health Care; Graham-Cassidy on Floor; Devastation in Puerto Rico; Trump to Visit Puerto Rico; Homeland Security Secretary on Puerto Rico. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:05] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump promises to visit Puerto Rico next week, and he defends the federal response to Maria amid complaints the devastated island isn't getting the attention Texas and Florida received after their hurricane horror stories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And he's hopeful that someone will help her. To be able to rebuild this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is Senate run-off day in Alabama as conservative Roy Moore hopes to literally ride his horse to victory. That would be a big defeat for President Trump and for the Republican establishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: They think you're a pack of morons. They think you're nothing but rudes (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And are you ready for more protests? NFL owners and players want the president to stay out of their pregame decisions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEZ BRYAN, WIDE RECEIVER, DALLAS COWBOYS: That was a clear shot at Trump, you know, sitting on their knee like that because, you know, you just can't do that. That's super disrespectful. And, you know, like I said, we showed great unity tonight. And that's what that was for. And, you know, I feel like that was -- that was needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But we begin the hour with the fateful hour ahead for the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. It has been the Republican Party's number one promise the past seven years. And a promise Donald Trump embraced with gusto from day one of his presidential campaign.

But as Republican senators gather for lunch this hour, they cannot deliver yet again and must decide what now. There are more than enough votes -- you see them right there -- to doom their latest attempt, legislation known as Graham-Cassidy. Susan Collins of Maine was the third public no yesterday. President Trump, none too pleased with those three nos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At some point there will be a repeal and replace. But we'll see whether or not that point is now or will it be shortly thereafter. But we are disappointed at certain so-called Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If push comes to shove, meaning if the Republican leadership is scheduled to vote anyway, it's a safe bet there will be more of what President Trump calls so-called Republicans.

Once again, the GOP's top political priority ran into damming policy hurdles. The Congressional Budget Office just yesterday saying Graham- Cassidy would slash about a trillion dollars from Medicaid over the next decade and that millions of Americans would lose their health insurance.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the author of the legislation, knows the math but wants a vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So we're going to press on. And it's OK to vote. It's OK to fall short if you do for an idea you believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press," CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

This has been your life for the past eight months. I was -- I was half joking before the show that I felt bad keeping you away from what appears to be a wake at a Senate Republican luncheon here.

Is there any way -- I don't mean to make light of this. This effects every single American from a life standpoint, from your health care standpoint, from your family budget standpoint, from life and death decisions standpoint, and it is a central party promise of the Republican Party. This latest version is done, right?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By all accounts, yes. Look, we've seen this happen over the course of the last five or six months. Iterations of this seem to have phoenix-like properties and all of a sudden reappear out of nowhere. But the reality is, the math just isn't there right now.

And I think there's a deeper issue here -- we discussed this a lot over the last couple of months, particularly in the Senate. There are just significant ideological divides in the Republican Party about the meaning of health care, about whether or not it's a right or whether or not it's something that should be provided. About how Medicaid should be treated, how it could be reformed. And as long as those divides exists -- and, look, it's not a huge divide in the conference. There's 46 Republicans that darn well will vote for anything that says Obamacare repealed because of political reasons and because of the very real policy reasons that they hear from constituents. But until you can find that last four or five Republicans to vote on something, until you can address a way to thread that needle between the far right of the conference and those in the more moderate or Medicaid expansion state space, there's no path forward for right now.

Now is it dead entirely? No, they're going to keep pushing on this. But the deadline was September 30th and it's very clear today that many people, including those in leadership, don't expect to vote, don't think a vote is a good idea. They could still have one. We'll see in about an hour or two. But the idea that this has any possibility of moving forward, no, it doesn't.

KING: To the points Phil made, and has made consistently, Mitch McConnell knew the day after the election he had 52. He knew the day after the election, that means I can only lose two and I have the vice president to break a tie. He knew these policy disagreements, whether you have the Ted Cruz, the Rand Pauls and the Mike Lees on the right, you have the Susan Collins, the Lisa Murkowskis, the John McCains and others -- I'll keep it short there -- on the other end of the Republican spectrum. None of that is new.

And so a lot of conservatives, a lot of Republicans, a lot of American who may be in the middle of politically saying, OK, well, senator, why did you -- why was this done so badly? If you knew the policy was hard, you knew the math was near impossible, why have you stumbled through this eight months process where you have -- looked like you don't know what you're doing?

[12:05:07] MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Because it's hard. That's it. And they sold it looking easier than it was ever going to look.

KING: Right.

HAM: And you do have this real ideological divide between Murkowski, Collins and the -- Rand Paul parts of the party. And I am not convinced there's a perfect bill that you could bring from the beginning in the perfect way that would have brought those people on.

There is also the argument that had you done the bill in more of an inclusive way, more regular order, that perhaps more of those votes would have been earned.

But I also think there are a handful of senator who don't actually want their names on any changes to this because there's a status quo bias in health care and there will be disruptions, there will be winners and there will be losers, as there are on any policy, and I don't think they actually want to touch it.

In fact, I wonder whether Susan Collins would vote for her own Obamacare replacement bill, which she devised with Cassidy and which looks very similar but slightly more generous on the Medicaid front than a Cassidy bill. I'm not convinced she would.

KING: And yet so now you have -- you heard the president there, so- called Republicans. I'm going to keep trying.

Back to Phil's point about, can the phoenix come back from the ashes. There are some Republican who say, OK, this has been horrible, this has been terrible, but we're going to do a budget, loosely defined budget, and we're going to attach tax reform to that. And when that train's leaving the station, maybe we can come at this again. Really?

JULIE PACE, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": I -- yes, you do hear that. Because this is, as Phil points out, this is something that Republicans have promised and the idea of heading into next year without being able to go to voters and show that they've taken some action on this is really a pretty grim scenario for a lot of folks who are working on 2018 races.

This is really going to be difficult, though. I think it's going to be difficult to see the will from some of these member who continue to put themselves out there. You know, a Susan Collins, a Lisa Murkowski, the things that they are asking for are very different than what Republicans want to put on the table right now. John McCain has been pushing regular order, which is really wonky and, you know, sounds really procedural, but actually he's talking about something very legitimate, which is that you're debating or you should be debating a major piece of legislation, which has these wide policy implications and instead this is all happening in the back room, which is really limning Republicans' ability to rally the public behind that legislation. So when you throw all of those factors together, it is hard to see how even something get tacked on to a budget.

KING: And for Republicans who complain, you know, well, the Democrats did this under Obama.

PACE: Yes. Right.

KING: It took them two years though, 17 months.

PACE: Exactly. Yes.

KING: And they did have public hearings.

PACE: Yes.

KING: And they did travel the country. The Republicans, to your point, I think it's central to this. The president said this would be easy. Send me Mr. Dealmaker to Washington with a Republican majority and, snap, we'll repeal Obamacare.

PACE: He said it would happen on day one.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, but the president, I mean, clearly doesn't really understand policy, health care policy. Certainly I think he understands and understood the (INAUDIBLE) apparently even on the tax reform, tax cut thing. He's saying, oh, you should call it tax cuts rather than tax reform. So he sort of understand the branding. I don't think he understood all of the different ideological, you know, kind of spreads and divisions in the Republican Party. I mean -- so that's what's happened.

And it's also true that he never really was attached to this bill. The details of it. I don't think he understood it very well. And I think the Republicans too didn't have a good selling point for this either. I mean you look at what Chuck Grassley said, this idea that somehow oh we'd b better if governors took over. I don't think anyone who is complaining about health care thinks that the solution is, oh, if my governor was in charge. I mean they're complaining about prices, access to care. So they never really had, I think, a firm footing in terms of how to make this work.

KING: That gets at -- I think the crux of the problem, and Mary Katharine this lunch -- if you were starting from scratch, then a federalist let the states decide, this would be a perfectly logical, conservative approach to do this. The problem is, they're trying to deal with an infrastructure that's in place that has some items in it that are quite popular in some of the states -- Murkowski in Alaska, Collins of Maine, the Medicaid expansion money, they're thinking, well, my people have this. My governor uses this. And this is going to cut the money away. So you're taking an infrastructure.

What lessons have been learned? What lessons will be learned, if any, from a -- what will Speaker Ryan learn? His -- the House did pass a bill. He made that clear this morning. Well, we're waiting on the Senate. It's not our problem.

But after the House passed a bill, the president threw them a big party and then called their bill mean.

HAM: Yes.

KING: The president's reaction now is to say so-called Republicans to those who are voting no. One of them, John McCain, whose thumbs down at 2:00 a.m. doomed the last try and then he came out publically Friday and essentially began the process of dooming this try.

The president's tweeting after Senator McCain, a few of the many clips of John McCain talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare. My oh my has he changed complete from years of talk. So tweeting videos of John McCain, who, yes -- yes, has dealt a blow to the president here, who also is battling brain cancer. Listen to his friend, Lindsey Graham, last night saying, back off Senator McCain, even though -- even though his vote doomed my bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He is one of my dearest friends in the world. And John McCain can do whatever damn he wants to. He's earned that right.

Now, to any American who's got a problem with John McCain's vote, all I can tell you is that John McCain was willing to die for this country and he can vote any way he wants to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:09] KING: The (INAUDIBLE) -- Senator Graham's obviously disappointed in his friend here, to your point Senator McCain says, number one, he says Republicans should learn the lesson of Obamacare. The Democrats did this by all Democratic votes. The country -- a lot of the country revolted against it. Let's not make the same mistake. Let's try something different.

However, will they go back? If they come out of that room today and they cannot repeal and replace, will they go back? Just a couple of weeks ago, Republican Lamar Alexander, Democrat Patty Murray, working on a package that would be fixing Obamacare, at least in the short term. If they do this in the short term, they can say, we're going to come back and repeal, we're going to come back and replace. But if the Republicans try to pass that, they will be fixing Obamacare after seven years of saying we will flush Obamacare. Can they do that?

HAM: A couple things. Look, I think Republicans are right to be mad at several of these senators, including Senator John McCain, who ran on repeal and knew exactly what that entailed and knew that it would not be regular order because this was going to be done by reconciliation and he was leading the charge on that as he was running for this.

The other thing that is interesting to me is this -- I think this fight reflects something larger about the Trump era, which is that everything's a fight and all of the fights are in public. So instead of actually -- people say it's all behind closed doors. Well, you're actually seeing is like sort of regular order brought out into the public. Every time we lose this, we're going to change and do something different. It's like mark-up, except we're actually voting on all of them and losing.

And then they were talking about bringing it up again in 2018. I think they actually will because this really is a promise. And when it comes to governors and having flexibility, look, the mandates and the top down nature of this are what drove many of the prices up in this individual market, make it really tough for people to buy, make it really tough for unsubsidized young people, who you need in that pool, to make it less sick to buy it and that's why they're dropping out. So you can make changes there. Nobody wants to be responsible for making the changes because Obamacare made a bunch of changes that they said they weren't going to make. A bunch of people paid the price for it and that's why Democrats have the majority.

KING: And I think it's hard to make the case for that, especially for people who were disrupted by Obamacare, who might want something different, to say the politicians are -- they don't trust any politicians.

HAM: Oh, yes. KING: Forget "D," forget "R," they don't trust any politicians. So if the politicians are going to disrupt my life again, as opposed to a more concerted effort to take that around the country and say, don't you trust your governor? Don't you trust your legislature? You'll be able to reach those people when you need to fix it. They're close to you. They're not in faraway Washington. But none of that happened.

PACE: No. And I think this Alexander-Murray arrangement that was -- that was actually moving forward before it got derailed by Graham- Cassidy, is an interesting place to look. I mean if Graham-Cassidy doesn't pass, it certainly doesn't look like it's going to, you are still left with a system that doesn't work right now.

And elected representatives in Washington, because of the way our system operates, are the ones that have to fix it. Democrats talk a little bit about the political benefits for them because this is politics, the political benefits for t hem of jumping on board a plan to fix Obamacare. The Republicans are still pretty uncertain whether that is where they want to go right now simply because of that narrative, that they would be the ones that couldn't get an Obamacare repeal across the line and ended up saving this (INAUDIBLE).

HAM: And the current things under consideration by Republicans are things that would change the fundamentals of the mandates and how people price these plans so that you conceivably could get (INAUDIBLE). Saving Obamacare just means giving a gagillion (ph) dollars to insurance companies. And it's going to sold as like, look at -- isn't this Sonny (ph) and Son (ph). They ain't fixing the fundamentals.

KING: The next question here is, does the leader, McConnell, authorize them to go back into those conversations. And then, two, what does the president say? Is he willing to sign on to a fix or does he want to keep pushing for repeal. We'll keep our eye on that one. A big couple hours ahead here in Washington.

Up next, though, devastation in Puerto Rico. I'll speak with the acting secretary of Homeland Secretary about what the federal government's doing to help.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:43] KING: You're watching live pictures here at the White House. The president of the United States visiting -- a visiting prime minister of Spain. The president -- you see the president standing there outside of the West Wing about to head into the White House there. The Marine standing guard, as always, outside the West Wing. The two leaders head into the Oval Office. We expect to get a bit of what we call a pool spray, cameras and reporters allowed into the room for a few minutes. We'll see if the president has anything to say when that happens.

One of the things he talked about earlier today, he plans now to visit Puerto Rico next week to see the devastation from Hurricane Maria. A short time ago, the president speaking about the aid efforts and the trail of destruction left behind. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico. And we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis.

Puerto Rico is very important to me. And Puerto Rico -- the people are fantastic people. I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans. And these are great people. And we have to help them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was the president. Before that meeting, the president received a briefing from his homeland security adviser Tom Bossert. Bossert, along with the FEMA chief, Brock Long, just returning home Monday after assessing the damage firsthand in Puerto Rico. The needs are overwhelming. The communication system, electric grid, crippled.

These before and after satellite images show how widespread the power outages are. People are starving for aid.

Just take a look at some of these images. A child laying on the framework of what used to be her home. A woman washing her clothes in open road drainage. Families trying to pick up the pieces now that their lives and homes are shattered.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has been doing some fabulous reporting in Puerto Rico. She managed to reach areas outside of San Juan that are devastated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This woman doesn't even know who I am, but I'm the first person she's seen land here since Hurricane Maria battered the island. The floods, the debris, the lack of power all making already hard-to-get-to areas even tougher to reach. Even FEMA hasn't set foot in some parts of Puerto Rico.

We took a chopper from San Juan to remote areas largely unseen, like a small town next to the Guajataca Dam on the northwest part of the island. The dam has been breached and the government ordered 70,000 nearby residents to evacuate.

[12:20:00] It is here in nearby Garadia (ph) where I was met with such emotion. The people starving for assistance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

SANTIAGO (on camera): She says if something happens to that dam, that could be just as bad as the hurricane itself.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Communications are so poor, many are asking us to send messages to their families.

From the air, you can see why. More than 3 million U.S. citizens could remain in the dark for months.

SANTIAGO (on camera): This is the problem. This is why Puerto Rico, 100 percent of the island, doesn't have power right now. Granted, the infrastructure was vulnerable before Maria passed by, but you could see with these power lines down what the challenge is. They're completely collapsed.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Heading further inland toward Utuado, the death toll is among the highest here. This is where we meet 56-year-old Risario Edia (ph). She is diabetic, just had surgery, and is unemployed. Now, she doesn't have a home either.

This is what Maria did to her home. Water spewing from every corner. By now, she thought help would have arrived. It hasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

SANTIAGO (on camera): So she's hopeful that someone will help her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

SANTIAGO: To be able to rebuild this.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Flying south to even more remote Yauco, the roads are blocked, forcing us to find another way to get to this home. Coffee grower Gaspacho Varnez (ph) and Doris Velis (ph) tell us the problem here is food. Most of what they have left has gone bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

SANTIAGO (on camera): He says you work and work and work and it's for nothing because he's lost everything.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): A common theme on an island of 3.4 million U.S. citizens, now waiting and hoping that help is on the way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Leyla Santiago's reporting in Puerto Rico.

We're standing by. We hope any second now to get a conversation with the acting secretary of Homeland Secretary, Elaine Duke, about the challenges ahead.

Let's talk about this in the room.

High marks for the president and for FEMA and for the federal response after Harvey, after Irma. We're beginning to have some complaints here. Part of it is these people are devastated. Part of it is logistics are much harder. It is an island. It's (INAUDIBLE) Puerto Rico.

But there seems to be a complaint from some of the residents. The mayor of San Juan was on this morning saying nice things about FEMA, nice things about the federal response. But when you get out where Leyla is, in the remote areas, a lot of people, they feel forgotten. Whether that's fair or not after something like this, that is how they feel because -- as you saw that woman hugging Leyla Santiago, she hadn't seen anybody come to her town to say, do you need anything? What's the challenge for the president here?

PACE: I think the challenge is to show that he is as committed to the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as he was in Florida and in Texas. I think with those two storms, he was as focused on what was happening as I have seen him be on any particular issue. He's easily distracted. He does tends to vacillate back and forth between issues.

But he was really set on making clear that he was focused on the recovery, that the federal government was out there providing information to people and, as a result, when you talk to people on the ground, they really do feel like the government step up there.

And we have seen in the last several days that this president has not been laser focused on Puerto Rico. He's been driving this conversation about the NFL over and over again, tweeting a little bit about Luther Strange. So I think that is his challenge now, to show the people in Puerto Rico that the government is actually going to be on the ground and that this is as much of a priority for him as these storms in contiguous states here.

HENDERSON: Yes, and you can see the reaction to that. I mean his recent poll numbers, I mean, show that people did think his reaction to those hurricanes, what happened in Florida, what happened in Texas as well. I mean he got high marks for that. I think for this he certainly distracted some of the things he tweeted about Puerto Rico early on. He seemed to talk about the bankruptcy there, as if that was more of a problem than the actual devastation of that hurricane. So I think he's got to work on the empathy.

He actually sounded really empathetic, I think, in these latest remarks, talking about the folks he knows who are Puerto Rican, who he knows from New York. So, we'll see. He'll go next Tuesday. Some people say maybe he should go earlier. And certainly the folks on the ground, I -- my best friend is Puerto Rican. His family has been devastated there. He's got a lot of family. Seventy-five percent of one of his relatives' houses, devastated. Some of them have generators. They don't really work very long. One of them works two or three hours. If these folks are going to be without power for months I mean according to what we're hearing out of Puerto Rico.

HAM: Well, I think this is one of the examples where the president's very bad at overshadowing what the government is actually doing sort of competently at the moment. There are 10-k plus federal staff on the ground in the American Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. There's Navy, there's Coast Guard, there's National Guard headed that direction. It is much harder to get supplies there than it is to Houston and to Florida. And that will continue to be a problem.

But when he tweets something like -- that seems to take sort of a digs at the debt of Puerto Rico, yes, people pay attention to that. I would say also on the not feeling like they're being paid attention to, not only is the president distracted, but the media cycle has been about the NFL. [12:25:09] KING: Right. Right.

HAM: It has not been about Puerto Rico. And so there's two players in that game.

MATTINGLY: And I think that's the crux of the concern, right, is that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country. These are American citizens. These are three million people. But unlike say Texas or Florida, their congressional delegations don't carry a lot of weight. There's going to be -- need something that's going to have to move through the Senate, a federal aid package, and the House. So there's concern that the island will be forgotten, that they won't be adequately represented on the federal level.

Well, there's absolutely federal government resources that are down there now. They are going to need significant more amounts of everything, most notably money and an aid package. And I think the concern, when it's not coming up on TV -- and this is where you give at ton of credit to Leyla which -- for that piece, which is extraordinary --

HENDERSON: Amazing work there.

MATTINGLY: Is, it's tough to visualize how bad it actually is until you see pictures. We're hearing verbal stories. We're listening about it. But we're not actually seeing how terrible it is. Where you could see everything in Houston. You could see what was going on in The Keys.

Now we're starting to see. And you could just tell this morning Senator Mitch McConnell on the floor talking about Puerto Rico. Speaker Paul Ryan at his press conference leading with Puerto Rico. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, talking about Puerto Rico, making clear an aid package is coming. People are starting to get their heads around the magnitude of this and that is extremely important because the needs are extraordinarily large and are going to be, I think, at the forefront of how this place recovers for the next month.

HAM: You just America -- so many Americans with family and friends, including myself, who they have not even heard from after this storm.

HENDERSON: Yes.

HAM: And like it's -- it's very scary.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: And I'm told the secretary -- the acting secretary of Homeland Security with be with us momentarily.

As you watch these picture again, it's been said before, I've said it many times in the last week, this is, for all the people out there who don't like the news media, this is just amazing reporting. Leyla Santiago, other members of our team, Rafael Romo is there. This is why it is so important to get to these places, to tell these stories. And whether these are Americans or not, these are people in dire need. But they happen to be our fellow Americans who are down there who feel that part of it is destruction on the grid. Part of it is, you know, there's no communication. Part of it is many of them were living in tough situations to begin with but they feel left out and they're looking for attention. And you see this play out. So when you see these pictures and you see the emotional responses, it is quite striking.

The president will go on Tuesday. I think that in and of itself. And, again, some people think, why didn't the president go in the first minutes when you have all this destruction, when you have the water everywhere, when you have a security situation, the president can do a lot more harm than good in some cases in rushing into some place --

PACE: Absolutely.

KING: Because of all the attention that takes, because of all the infrastructure it takes to support the security and the movements of a president. So it's often smart for the president to wait, even though if you're on the ground there, you saw the pictures of him in Texas, you saw the pictures of him in Florida. You want that. You want that attention too because you want to know that you are relevant. That the president's --

HENDERSON: Yes.

HAM: They are -- they're barely getting supply planes in right now.

PACE: Right. The situation is the airport is pretty grim right now, so the focus needs to be on if you're going to plane movement into Puerto Rico right now, it should be bringing aid, bringing first responders, not the president. You know that that will shut down the capital and wherever he moves it's going to pull enormous resources into it. So, you know, this is always a debate after natural disasters. Whatever president is in the White House, how quickly they should go. But there is this really legitimate concern about what putting a president on the ground early does to the people who so badly need help here.

HENDERSON: Yes, and a lot of them -- it's -- I mean as you were talking about this, people who are going there, who are -- who will go there, who are already on the ground there. I mean in some ways the president going there, I mean, is symbolic in many ways in terms of what they do. They'll obviously draw media attention to it. Hopefully draw people to volunteer, send money and all those sorts of things. But I think, you know, he'll go next Tuesday and it will be fine (ph).

KING: Well, let's go straight to the White House, to the cabinet secretary whose challenge is to try to help and help as soon as possible, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke.

Madam Secretary, thank you for your time.

We just saw a very emotional package by one of my colleague, Leyla Santiago, who is on the ground in some of the more remote areas. You know the numbers all too well. The island, I believe, still almost 100 percent without power, 85 percent of the cell phone towers down so people here who have family, friends, relatives in Puerto Rico can't even reach them to see how they're doing. Give us an update on those key infrastructure points about getting roads open, getting cell towers back up, at least getting the communication and power infrastructure back in place.

ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You're exactly right, John, that is where we are now. We do have some cell phone communications that started today. About 35 percent of the island we're restoring power of the cell phone towers. We are still working on the electrical grid. It was devastated in this hurricane. We are moving in generators to keep people safe and keep the hospitals running and key infrastructure while we rebuild the power structure and power grid through the governor.

KING: Some of this is the logistical challenge. Some of it, as we were just talking with the panel, I don't think you could hear us yet, about how a resident wants to see their president in the community, but often it would cause more harm than good for a president to go quickly because of all the attention a president takes away.

But what would you say to the citizens of Puerto Rico, especially in those remote areas, who saw the president go quickly to Texas, who saw the president in Florida, and who feels somehow that they either are being or might be forgotten because they are off our shores, not connected.

[12:30:07] DUKE: I just left a meeting. The president, the vice president, all the key members were there, his staff. We're having a cabinet meeting this --