Return to Transcripts main page


San Juan Mayor Angrily Rebukes Trump White House; Millions In Puerto Rico Still Lack Power, Water Or Gas; Interview with Sen. Marco Rubio; Rubio To Trump: Put Military In Charge Of Aid; Soon: Trump Live Amid Puerto Rico, Tom Price Outrage. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. It has been nine days now since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. Nine days without power, nine days with food running out, nine days without fully operational hospitals and nine days without basic communications.

Nine days later the Trump administration is under increasing pressure to do more, and now after nine days, this from the acting homeland security secretary and San Juan's mayor.


ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am very satisfied. I know it's a hard storm to recover from, with the amount of progress that's been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know that it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Well, maybe from where she's standing it's a good news story. When you're drinking from a creek, it's not a good news story. When you don't have food for a baby it's not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings because -- you know, I'm sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me.

You know, get -- I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns and then make a statement like that, which frankly, it is an irresponsible statement, and it contrasts with the statements of support that I have been getting since yesterday when I got that call from the White House.

This is -- damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life or death story. This is -- there's a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water.

If I could scream it a lot more louder, it is not a good news story when people are dying, when you don't have dialysis, when the generators aren't working and the oxygen isn't providing for them. Where is there a good news here?

I mean, the good news is that we're getting hurt. The good news is there's boots on the ground and people from FEMA has the heart in the right place and the HHS people know what to do. For heaven's sake, somebody, let them do their job.

Let them get the food and the water in the hands of people and then let's talk about good news. I'm really sorry, but you know, when you have -- when you have people out there dying, literally, scraping for food, where is -- where is the good news?


BOLDUAN: That is San Juan's mayor. Here is the very latest on the relief response in Puerto Rico, 10,000 federal relief workers are on the ground. That includes about 7,200 U.S. troops. That's according to the administration.

FEMA officials say 2 million liters of water have been handed out along with a million meals and a three-star general is now on the ground to spear head military efforts there.

CNN is covering all of these angles and will continue to do so. We have dozens of staffers and teams positioned across the island. Let's begin in Puerto Rico's capital. CNN's Boris Sanchez is in San Juan. Boris, you've been on the streets of San Juan all this morning watching the lines grow. What are people telling you?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are desperate, Kate. A lot of people have come up to us asking where they can find FEMA, where they can find people that can offer them aid. Some of the folks that are getting to the front of the gas line right now were actually here when our crew arrived at 5:00 a.m. The line is enormous.

Let's give you a glimpse. There are more than 100 cars here. It stretches further than a quarter mile. We stopped counting after we got to 100. It turns into a corner and then it continues for blocks and blocks, Kate.

Here on our left you can see people in line with gas canisters. They're bringing all kinds of receptacles. I've seen gas canister, I've seen old laundry detergent bottles, paint canisters. Look, there is old cement canisters being used to get filled with gas, old water jugs.

The other thing we should note, you can't use a credit card at this gas station. It's cash only and their ATM is busted. So, if you prepared for Hurricane Maria and you got yourself stocked with gas and cash, it's nine days later. You're starting to run out of those precious goods you need, just to function.

[11:05:09] A lot of these folks tell us that their generators at home are running low. One other note, I spoke to a woman early this morning who was here in line who told me she waited for several hours yesterday outside of a grocery store. When she finally got in she said she was heartbroken when she saw there was no water on the shelves.

None of the food she was looking for was available. Resources are running low and people are getting agitated, Kate. Again, they're asking us where they can find help. They have few answers so far.

BOLDUAN: All right. Boris, thank you so much. Boris Sanchez, taking -- has the view there. We're going to continue to follow all the devastation and the recovery efforts that are happening in Puerto Rico.

Right now, though, I do want to go to CNN's Tal Kopan for the other side of this, we were just listening to, the frustration from San Juan's mayor, in response to the remark coming from the acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke.

CNN's Tal Kopan was on a flight with Elaine Duke just now, just landed in Puerto Rico and she had an opportunity to speak briefly with the acting secretary. Tal, can you hear me?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (via telephone): Yes, I can. Hi, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Tell me, what does the secretary have to say?

KOPAN: Well, obviously, the good news comment isn't exactly what they wanted as the headline out of yesterday and the secretary actually spoke with us on the tarmac just now, we just landed in San Juan, and clarified that when she says good news, she's referring to the response of people.

People coming together and she said she's very proud of people working to help other folks, but she did acknowledge yes, as folks have been saying on the ground, this is a life-threatening situation and the government still feels that there's work to be done.

And we spoke with many officials on the plane from several different departments in the government and that was the message we heard that there's always more to do, but they feel that they are proud of the whole of government response coming together at this point.

BOLDUAN: Tal, did Secretary Duke say that she regrets the wording that she used?

KOPAN: She didn't say that she had regrets, but she certainly acknowledged that she felt the need to clarify what she had said and that she didn't intend for it to come across as saying that right now, everything is good news.

So she did feel the need to point to, she said, the end of the statements she made yesterday but wanted to reiterate and were working to get that video to you as soon as possible that while she's proud she acknowledges there's work that needs to be done for sure.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Important clarification. We'll see if San Juan's mayor gets that message. Tal, thank you so much. She will be with the acting homeland security secretary on the ground in Puerto Rico today. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

So, our next guest is all too familiar with the challenges of a massive relief effort following a natural disaster. Retired Lieutenant General Ken Keen, commanded response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. General Keen is joining me right now by the phone. General, can you hear me?

GENERAL KEN KEEN, U.S. NAVY (RETIRED) (via telephone): Yes, I can. Good morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. When you see Puerto Rico, General, how does it compare to the effort you led in Haiti?

KEEN: Well, I think there are obvious differences but a lot of comparisons to be made. I mean, the destruction and the impact that this is having on the entire island of Puerto Rico I think is reminiscent of what we encountered following the earthquake in Haiti in terms of the total devastation and the feeling to a certain degree of the people feeling hopeless at the -- in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

BOLDUAN: General, within two weeks after Haiti, there were 33 U.S. military ships, 22,000 troops on the island of Haiti, more than 300 military helicopters overhead, there's nowhere near those numbers right now in Puerto Rico. Is the government moving too slow?

KEEN: Well, I think it's certainly fair to say that the response hasn't been sufficient to meet the needs of the Puerto Rican people up to this point. And I think, you know, when we make this comparison in just raw numbers it doesn't tell the complete story.

I mean, it's true that we -- within two weeks we had 22,000 troops deployed in support of the operation on Haiti, but actually on the island of Haiti, the highest number I think we ever really approached was 6,000 because we had, obviously, a lot of Marines and sailors on ships going back and forth.

So, I think it's more of applying what resources and what forces you have to the problems that you have, but they certainly need more resources, in my view from where I sit.

[11:10:01] BOLDUAN: What we've heard now, General, is that there's a three-star general, Buchanan, who is on the ground, but that he reports to FEMA and FEMA reports to the governor of Puerto Rico. Is that going to work?

KEEN: Well, that's not -- obviously, uncommon. It's not different than what we encountered in Haiti. I wasn't the lead federal agency for the U.S. government. That was the United States Agency for International Development led by a designate the ambassador on the ground who was really working in support of the government of Haiti and the United Nations. I think what's key here, though, is that our military is working in support of the governor's priorities and working in concert with him and what they need to achieve with a whole of society, a whole community approach as I think has been noted, is a unity of effort.

And this is the major challenge I think that we certainly always see and face following large-scale disasters and even small scale. How do you coordinate and cooperate among all these organizations that are being applied to the disaster?

BOLDUAN: General, if you can give advice, what is the one thing that can help make a significant change on the ground? It's one thing to talk about having Army Corps of Engineers come in and try to fix the power, short and long term, but folks just need water bottles handed to them at this point, and the mayor there in San Juan says that's not happening. What would you say can be done today?

KEEN: Well, they need to get out to every community and location throughout the island and get assessments of all these locations where they can determine where the greatest need is and apply that. That's a major challenge.

But they also have got to figure out quickly here how to bring the power of the government and first responders and community leaders into helping one another and I know that there's a lot of organizations on the ground providing assistance to communities but how do you bring all that together.

This will be a tremendous challenge in the days and weeks ahead and it won't be easily solved, but I think it's fair to say they're on the right path with putting some command and structure in place to help the effort.

BOLDUAN: General, great to have you on. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

KEEN: OK. Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So for more on the government's response, joining me right now, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: You heard me just talking to General Keen right there. He is a man who knows about disaster response, and he's saying what he's seen so far hasn't been sufficient. What are you seeing? What are you thinking right now?

RUBIO: So, I think we're analyzing this and some of the statements if you take all the interviews that preceded made together, it gives you an insight into exactly what the problem is here. This is not an issue that people don't care, not that we're not doing enough in that sense, because this storm is responded to the way we respond to storms. And the traditional model is there's a storm and the local governments and the state governments are the first line of defense and if they need something the federal government fills in those unmet needs.

That model isn't working here and the reason why it doesn't work here not because the government of Puerto Rico or the governor is doing a bad job, it's because the government itself has been a victim of the hurricane. Not just the people, but the government itself is a victim of the hurricane.

And so, they've tried to identify that problem and move on it and I just think they need to do more of that. So, I know they're doing more, right, they're embedding two Marines now with every local official with temporary communications.

They started with the big municipalities and moving down. But at its core right now, the challenge here and the immediate term is the logistical challenge. There is aid in Puerto Rico, there is aid sitting at the port, there is aid coming in and more aid to come that can't be allowed in because there's no room for it because the old aid is still there.

They have to get that aid moving to the right places. To do that you need to restore roads, bare minimum power, bare minimum of communications and a logistical change. The government of Puerto Rico, it's not that they're not trying hard and don't want to do it and we don't have sufficient assets -- we may not but that's not the cause, the logistics change is broken and only the U.S. military can stand it up.

It's truly my hope that at some point here in the next few hours that the generals that are down there now, someone with three stars, or two stars or three stars on their shoulder, will be able to be the ultimate decisionmaker until we get basic logistics.

I'm not talking about a military takeover of the government in Puerto Rico. I'm talking about logistics. Re-establish the basic logistics and then move transitions back towards the traditional model. Until they do that it's not going to get substantially better.

[11:15:06] BOLDUAN: You were in Puerto Rico this week and you wrote this exactly to the president. Saying that in the long term, the existing structure the way the order of command, if you will, is fine, but right now, you need someone, you need DoD to lead the charge to get food, water, life-saving things in the hands of the people to fix that break in the logistical chain. Have you heard back from the White House about this?

RUBIO: Well, I think they're moving in that direction. I think sending the general down there today and yesterday is important and they're going to come back with the same recommendation.

BOLDUAN: But if he says that he reports to FEMA and FEMA reports to the governor, is that --

RUBIO: That's the way it eventually will be again, yes. But that's -- in my view, he knows more about it than I do. He's here now. If that's what his recommendation is we'll see what the results are.

You're asking my view and my view is I have people that want to help, OK, I have aid ling up here and there that wants to get there. The aid can't come in because the old aid that's already there hasn't been moved yet. There's nowhere to put the new aid if the old aid hasn't gotten out.

That logistical chain has to be moved, that has to be improved. It's broken, shattered because the government of Puerto Rico is a victim of the hurricane and until the logistics is reestablished at a core basic level so you can get basic stuff going, you're not going to go back to that traditional model.

I don't know of any other organization in the country or the world that can do that faster or better than the U.S. military, but they have to have the authority to say go and it happens. And some of that is happening --

BOLDUAN: Who do they call, Senator?

RUBIO: Well, obviously the president would. I understand the sensitivities, OK. I don't think anyone wants to say we couldn't handle it so the federal government had to come in and take it over. That's not what we're talking about.

The government of Puerto Rico will still be the government of Puerto Rico and they will be in charge of the mid and long-term recovery. I'm just talking about logistics. We need to put someone who knows about logistics in charge of logistics with the authority to act quickly and decisively without going through a bureaucracy of five different decision makers and I hope that that's what's happening today.

You do that and things will start to get better. You don't do that and you're going to keep reporting on those things. It's not because the president doesn't care, it's not because we responded too late, it's not because people aren't working hard, it's because the process is not going to work in this circumstance until we deal with logistics first.

BOLDUAN: Two things can be true, right, Senator? I mean, the government is trying to help, and everyone's heart is in the right place, but also it is not enough, right?

RUBIO: Well, it's not that it's not enough. It's not enough in the right places. In essence, there's a lot of food coming in, lot of water, medical assistance, but if that medical assistance is sitting at the port it's theoretically in Puerto Rico, but it's not enough.

You have to get it from the port to the people who need it and that's the problem. We don't know where they are because of communications. They don't have enough gasoline or trucks to get it there. Some of the roads are damaged.

My staff visited a community yesterday where the mayor had to establish a zip line because a bridge had gone down. That might be OK to get some healthy people across, but how are you going to get gasoline on a tank on a zip line. Who is going to rebuild that bridge?

I don't know of anyone that can do that in a short term quickly unless the Army Corps of Engineers who's on the ground and more will need to happen. That's been my argument and so I know they're moving in that direction, my only encouragement is they keep moving in that direction and do it as quickly as possible.

The faster they do it, the shorter time frame they have for decision making, the quicker this thing will begin to improve.

BOLDUAN: Can I ask you real quick? Your response to the acting secretary of the department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke, when she said this was a good news story, it really clearly upset the mayor of San Juan when she heard it today.

Elaine Duke today saying that it seemed to acknowledge that wasn't the sentiment she was trying to portray, trying to say she's proud in people and how people have responded. But what do you say to that?

RUBIO: Yes. I don't think she meant any harm by it. I'm confident she's aware of the dire circumstances there. My sense is she's not a politician, not guarding every word. That's what she said is true, she was trying to tell -- it's a good news story in the sense there are people working hard and doing a lot.

Obviously, the mayor of San Juan or you're someone in Puerto Rico and drinking water out of a pipe to grab spring water coming down a mountain you don't view that as good news and it's frustrating to hear that because it indicates someone is out of touch or doesn't understand the true circumstances.

I don't think it means that she -- she -- the secretary, the acting secretary, somehow out of touch with reality. She was trying to not -- obviously trying to do it in a way that acknowledged the hard work. There's people out there working hard.

There are people that haven't slept in two days. We recognize it. It's not that they're not working hard or sitting around watching tv all day. It's just that the logistics have to be rebuilt and until they do the frustration will only build.

BOLDUAN: Senator, real quick, I do want to ask you because Florida is still recovering, of course and we did just learn today it was confirmed a 12th patient died at that nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, after losing power after Hurricane Irma, 12 people now.

RUBIO: Yes. Terrible. Tragedy.

BOLDUAN: What do you say.

[11:20:08] RUBIO: It's a terrible tragedy and obviously there is a law enforcement involved in that now and a full investigation and that will move in that direction. It's unacceptable. We'll -- but I think it also enlightens us, these storms, also reveal vulnerabilities and revealed some vulnerabilities in Puerto Rico and reveal vulnerabilities in Florida. Not just nursing homes, by the way.

We have a lot of senior housing places, we have where the staff on the eve of the hurricane went home and left eight seniors by themselves and had it not been for great students at Ave Maria University and local sheriff deputies those seniors at that assisted living facility would have ridden out the storm without anybody with them in a home that wasn't secure.

So this exposed some real vulnerabilities that I know state officials are going to look at and even the Senate's Aging Committee has begun to look at as well to see what federal policies could do to analyze and confront that.

BOLDUAN: Senator, thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

RUBIO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. Any moment now, we will hear from President Trump. He will be speaking live. He's set to talk taxes, but will he also address what seems to be a disconnect as we've been discussing today already, between Washington's relief response and what Puerto Rico is seeing on the ground.

Plus, how high a price will Tom Price pay for his private jet travel on the taxpayer dime? The president says he is not happy but what exactly does that mean for his cabinet secretary's future?



BOLDUAN: All right. Moments from now, we will be going right there, President Trump will be speaking live. He's going to be making his pitch for as he calls it a once the generation opportunity to overhaul the nation's tax code. No small task whatsoever. We're going to bring you those remarks live when they begin.

But also, no small task right now the White House facing major questions about privacy, as in private jets and private e-mail accounts used by some of the president's closest aides and cabinet secretaries.

With me now to explain at the White House, senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns and CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, in Washington as well. All right, boys, Joe, the president said this week, he's not happy with Health Secretary Tom Price. But how unhappy I think is the question, like as in, he's going to be out of a job unhappy over his use of a private jet? Where do things stand?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's a question we're asking and it's hard to discern quite frankly. I spoke with Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway a few minutes ago and she said for now certainly he has a job.

He was here at the White House for two hours in a meeting just yesterday with some high-level administration officials talking about one of the president's signature issues the opioid crisis.

And they're also acknowledging the fact that he has paid $51,000 to cover the cost to taxpayers of the charter flights. Hasn't reimbursed for the military flights, but the White House message is, they don't have anything to do at the White House with charter flights. So open question, clearly the president is upset, and Tom Price trying to continue to go about his job.

BOLDUAN: And a couple reviews under way of exactly how those were approved, why those were approved and should they have been approved, those charter flights. So, Shimon, the other bit of privacy we need to talk about the White House seems to have a private e-mail problem on their hands and Jared Kushner seems to be front and center on this. How serious is this getting?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes. It's serious enough that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the two top leaders of the committee, which is running its own investigation of Russian interference, is now raising questions and demanding that Kushner provide those e-mails from his personal account that may relate to their investigation.

You know, the Republican and Democratic senators who lead that community -- committee, wrote a letter to Kushner's lawyer expressing their frustration that Kushner, when he appeared before them at a closed session, didn't reveal his use of the private e-mail where he reportedly conducted White House business.

The use of private e-mail only came to light after news reports revealed Kushner conducted official White House business on the account. E-mailing various officials in the administration.

The senators are now questioning whether any of these e-mails need to be scrutinized by them and their investigators and are demanding that he go back and reviews these e-mails and perhaps other messages, text messages, maybe some of the apps he's been using, that may now be related, may have information that relates to the Russian investigation.

BOLDUAN: And what's the response from Kushner?

PROKUPECZ: So far, we don't have a response. The letter was just received by his attorney, Abbe Lowell, yesterday, and we don't know that there's any response yet. We do know that this -- that this investigation is going forward and, you know, I think the senators are now waiting for a response.

The attorney is going to eventually determine what e-mails should be turned over. Kushner will forward them to Abbe Lowell, his attorney, and at that point they probably will come to a decision as to what should be turned over. BOLDUAN: All right. E-mail problems, private jet problems, lots of problems right now. All right. Joe, Shimon, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now to discuss, David Chalian, CNN political director, Tara Palmeri, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "Politico" and Julie Hershel Davis, CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The New York Times."

Great to see all of you. Let's start with how high a price Tom price is about to pay, David. How much trouble do you think Tom Price is? I mean, Donald Trump has said he is unhappy with folks in his cabinet before. He's -- I think he's still unhappy with Jeff Sessions. I'm not sure, but I think he is. Jeff Sessions is still there. How much trouble is Tom Price in?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, obviously there's only one person that can actually answer that question legitimately and that's Donald Trump. But I think that this world of hurt that Tom Price is in right now, is not going away any time soon.

It seems to be getting worse not better. He seems to be coming a bigger problem for the president, a bigger headache --