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Conclusion of White House Briefing; White House Won't Say Whether HHS Chief Tom Price Will Keep His Job; White House Briefing Amid Humanitarian Crisis in Puerto Rico; White House Firmly Believes Aid Will Reach Puerto Ricans in Time. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 28, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any beliefs a candidate could hold or actions a candidate could take that if he were still a Republican the President would not endorse him?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into every potential hypothetical that any potential candidate may or may not have over the course of the time that the president is the president. I know where the President stands on specific issues, that's what I can speak about. Not somebody else as a candidate for another office is not here -- Anita.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tom did not call on me, so I will ask the he question I wanted to understand. He mentioned in response to what Senator Rubio was saying asking that the Pentagon be in charge, that the Pentagon is in charge of a lot, but not everything. I still don't understand why it's not in charge of everything. Or the response will be to Senator Rubio who sent a letter to the president today

SANDERS: Again, we're continuing to work with state officials including the governor, who as Tom said, we have confidence in. But we're supplementing and augments that with federal resources including over 10,000 federal employees, and those on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why one entity in charge, I guess is the question? He said many were in charge of different things. Why is one person not in charge? Or one entity?

SANDERS: I believe one person is in charge of different parts of this process. The governor is still the governor of Puerto Rico. We're continuing to work with him, be in constant contact and we have one person in charge of the federal component of that. And that would be the one-star general on the ground working with state officials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two questions. One, I know you said the White House doesn't approve charter flights ahead of time. But generally speaking given the focus that the president on cost savings, like you said, wanted not to just drain the swamp but wanted people to spend money in for responsible ways. Is there a policy for administration for government employees and cabinet members to try to fly commercial? Do they have any guidance? Were they given guidance as to how they should be traveling?

SANDERS: We're looking into that. When it comes to military aircraft, that's a part where the White House does actually play a role and on that front the Trump administration has actually authorized far fewer flights for senior government officials than the Obama administration did during the same time period. And so, we're continuing to look at ways to bring that back under the places where the White House has that direct control and authority which is under military aircraft, which we've cut back significantly at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Follow-up on the Roy Moore comments. You don't want to talk about the race. From the podium do you want to at least it condemn some of the sentiments you said the President to your knowledge does not share?

SANDERS: I would certainly say we don't agree with those comments, but in terms of whether or not I'm going to get into the back and forth over another candidate. We're here to focus on the President, the President's agenda and those are the questions and the people that I can answer for -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One more question on Secretary Price's flight. You said the White House wasn't aware. But on at least one of those flights a senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, was flying with him on the private flight. Are you looking at that one specifically to see if the White House knew about that?

SANDERS: I didn't say we weren't aware. I said the White House doesn't authorize those private charter flights. Again, we're doing a full, not just of that flight but an intern review at HHS of all private charter flights as well as an IG review that we conducted of all of them, not just any one particular flight. That will be very thorough -- Julie?

Zeleny: If the president -- as he's watching this coverage in Puerto Rico, is he satisfied with what he sees as the response here? Is he satisfied on what he's hearing from his -- from his advisors or would he like to see things moving along faster as some of the people on the ground have asked for?

SANDERS: The president wants to continue to do everything we can to protect the safety and security of the people both at U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We're continuing to do that as Tom spoke very in dep-depth about that process and what it looks like. That's our focus. That's what we are going to be continuing to do. People first, paperwork second. The President empowered all of his agencies to go forward with that mind-set and what we'll continue to do -- Julie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw that Secretary Price is here today for an event with the first lady. Did the President have the chance to down and talk about this issue? His private jet use? Or has he had a one- on-one conversation with the secretary about that? And when you said the White House has ordered a halt on all of these flights, is that administration-wide, White House people, every agency? You said particularly with regard to HHS?

SANDERS: That's specific to HHS. I don't know they spoke today but they have spoken about this issue previously. I don't believe the president saw the secretary at any point today, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And following up on that, does the president believe or anyone at the White House think that there has been a tone set at the top here that has allowed cabinet members to feel empowered to be able to take private jet flights when they're going on official travels? We now have the HHS secretary, the EPA administrator, the treasury secretary took a flight on a private jet on an itinerary widely available commercially. Is there something that the president said or done to set the tone that this is OK?

[15:35:12] SANDERS: Not at all. I think the president's been clear about his position by stating clearly that he is not thrilled with the airplane use at this point -- Catherine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two things. One, I just want to understand the extent of the review process here into Price and others? You said HHS review, is there a White House component, is Price looking that or anyone been accused of?

SANDERS: For HHS specifically, they're conducting an internal review as well as an IG review. The White House is looking at more of an overall not specific to that department, because there's already two reviews taking place there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Also, Sarah, the president said would donate personal funds, I think $1 million to Harvey relief. Is he making any personal donation to Puerto Rico?

SANDERS: I haven't talked to him specifically about that but he didn't make a donation to Harvey relief. He made a donation to relief organizations. The Red Cross and many others that are a part of all of the hurricanes that we've experienced over the last several weeks. And so those organizations aren't limited to a specific, nor those donations, a specific storm but go to those organizations that are helping aggressively and intensely in the recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well --Peter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And housekeeping things. One, saw Steve Scalise with that emotional remarks, at the House chamber today. Did the President speak to him today or yesterday to welcome him back and can you tell us about that conversation?

SANDERS: I know they did speak today. I don't have details but I'll see if I can get something. But I know he certainly welcomed him back and reminded him that we'll continue to keep he and his family in our prayers for a full recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given the extent of the disaster in Puerto Rico right now, is the president considering delaying his trip there scheduled for next Tuesday?

SANDERS: As of right now, we feel comfortable with the President taking a trip on Tuesday. If there were any indication that it would halt or disrupt recovery or relief efforts we would certainly reconsider and pull that trip back. But at this time the folks on the ground have indicated that it would be helpful for him to be there. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump or any other

staff member taken a plane ride since their joining this administration or been given access at some point to ride along with somebody else in a private plane?

SANDERS: I'm not sure about those two specific individuals. I'd have to look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to ask about Cuba. The CBS is reporting that the U.S. is prepared to announce a major withdrawal of staff and families from embassies in Havana. Is there anything you can tell us about that and how would you describe the relation between Cuba and the U.S. right now?

SANDERS: At this point I'm not going to weigh in on the Cuba staff and get ahead of any potential action that may take place there. So, I don't have anything new to add.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cuba says it warned the U.S. against taking quote, hasty actions in response to these incidents happening in Havana targeting diplomats. How does the U.S. respond to that?

SANDERS: Again, we haven't taken any action at this point that I'm going to weigh into any further. When we do that we'll let you know. But I can assure you that our goal Will be on the focus of what's best for this country. Not what's best for Cuba -- John Decker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot. Sarah. The president as you know has said that players who kneel or take a knee during the national anthem ought to be fired. And you, yourself, have said from the podium in response to very a critical tweet by an ESPN anchor that that individual ought to be fired. You said it was a fire-able offense. Which brings me to Secretary Price. His extensive use by these private jets, why is that not a fire-able offense? That's my first question. And has he offered to reimburse the government in any way for his use of those private jets?

SANDERS: I think that is something that we would determine once those reviews are complete. In terms of reimbursement. I'm not sure. I'd have to check and get back to you -- April.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the taking a knee issue, I'm understanding that many of the NFL players are still very upset with this back and forth.

SANDERS: I think so are many Americans. Far more Americans than there are NFL players.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I finish my question, please?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many NFL players are upset and many had different ideas and opinions on this. But when the President weighed in, the NFL said we're going to be united. There is an anticipation that it could grow even more so, this weekend. What is the President anticipating what should we expect him to say about this? It's now the NFL against the president.

SANDERS: I think the President's made very clear. This shouldn't be about the NFL being against the president. This should be about our country coming together to support the flag. Support the national anthem.

[15:40:02] There's nothing wrong with having pride in the United States. This president's been very clear on that and certainly not going to back away from it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I have a follow-up. So, the NFL players what we're hearing, it's not about not having pride. Saying they're patriots. They love the country but they're challenging the system. And they're looking at history like the challenge of, of the system when it came to women's rights issues as well as civil rights. What does the President say when you look at history and see how people love this country but wanted to challenge the system to make it better?

SANDERS: I think if we're going to look at history we should look at the thousands of Americans who have given their life to protect that flag, to protect that anthem. We should be celebrating those people? I gave you a chance to answer. I'm going to finish your statement.

We should be looking at every way we can to celebrate our country. Bring it together. Not looking at ways to divide it. The President is simply talking about what we're for, not about what we're against. And certainly, this administration will always be for protection and celebration of the flag, and the national anthem. That's not going to change, and follow-up --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, wait, to clarify. One second to clarify on that.

SANDERS: I don't think there's much to clarify. I think it looks pretty black and wait there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People out there are divided on this issue. It is a racial issue for some people and the question is, when the military issue is brought in, the military goes and fights for the freedoms of this nation. And the players are saying they are thankful for the military service to allow them to have the freedoms to do this. I mean is there some kind of confusion here or is it -- us versus them kind of scenario?

SANDERS: It certainly shouldn't be. As I've said several times before this, this isn't an us versus them. This should be something that brings our country together. These are symbols of what our country stands for, and this should be the opposite of what that is. This should be a very unifying moment when the national anthem plays. All Americans should be proud to stand up, salute that flag, salute that anthem and be part of that process. Go ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, he believes NFL team owners are afraid of their players. What did he mean?

SANDERS: Oh, probably the backlash of the players and stance that they're making. And not wanting to create that conflict within their team. The President is here to lead the country. He feels strongly about this. As do most Americans, because they certainly agree with him as we've soon not just in the public support also in public polling on that very specific issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four days since the German elections. Has the President had time to talk to her?

SANDERS: I believe they spoke either yesterday morning or this morning and we have a readout coming on that and will make sure you guys get that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow-up just quickly. Two quick questions. Follow up on the NFL thing. I may not be the brightest guy in the room -- don't say it.

SANDERS: You said it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But my question --

SANDERS: Nobody else argued either, so --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't understand. I understand that he's saying you should stand up. But if a guy is sitting there going, I don't want to stand up, he still recognizes he has the first amendment right not to. Yes? It's his opinion. He's not -- or is he asking us to carve out an exception to the first amendment for freedom of expression?

SANDERS: No. Not looking for an exception. I think the President's been very clear of what his position is and he feels strongly that when the national anthem plays people should stand up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow-up -- I had a second question. I did have a second question. The second question was in regard to the private emails that have gone out. Is the President monitoring staff on that? Is he concerned about them using private emails for public business?

SANDERS: The White House has been clear and instructs all staff to fully comply with Presidential records acts. All staff has been briefed on the need to preserve those records and will continue to do so -- Brian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Cochran and --

SANDERS: We'll make this the last question. Running tight on time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And about Senator Cochran and the healthcare vote, it was the White House's understanding that Senator Cochran wasn't able to physically be here this week. Senator Cochran's office said there have been plans made for Senator Cochran to come to Washington if there was going to be a healthcare bill. Was the White House not aware those plans had been made? SANDERS: That was our understanding. As I said, that the senator was

physically unable to be here this week. We're certainly glad that wasn't the case. Thanks so much, guys. We'll be in the office the rest of the day. Happy to answer the rest of your questions.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. So, that was quite a briefing beginning with Gary Cohn talking about tax reform, saying it was the opportunity of his lifetime, you know, in the wake of Charlottesville. What did he say? He says he wants to help the president rewrite tax reform for this country. And then on to Tom Bossert, we heard about Puerto Rico. He in his own way tried to clarify, you know, the waiver on the Jones Act. Which we can get into maybe momentarily. Although we heard sort of a different story from the president yesterday.

On into HHS Secretary, Tom Price, taking all those private jets. The IG is looking deeply into that. She made news saying that there will be no more private planes for that department until that review is complete.

[15:45:04] Making news and saying the president is not thrilled with him at all. And then also making news on the NFL saying that President Trump will not back down from this NFL fight. And this is all coming in the wake of the President yesterday saying that he's buddies with some of the owners and how they are just in a box and they are afraid of their players. All of that, let's get into pieces of it. I've got Jeff Zeleny there standing by. Jeff, let's actually begin with Puerto Rico if we can. I heard your question which was excellent on the fact that this three-star general which is wonderful news, you know, is headed -- will be in Puerto Rico today. And your question I believe was, well why did it take him eight days to get them there?

ZELENY: Indeed, Brooke. I mean, that is the question we're hearing on the ground from our many colleagues in Puerto Rico, from lawmakers, from others. Why on the eighth day is the administration finally sending a three-star general to Puerto Rico on the ground? So, I did ask the president's homeland security adviser that. And he said look, this three-star general had been monitoring all this from San Antonio. He had been keeping track of all this from there. But I tried to get him to ask wouldn't it have been easier to monitor this all this on the ground in Puerto Rico. And Tom Bossert did not really answer that. He defended the administration's response.

But I do think we now know now the fact that they indeed are sending the general. He will be on the ground later today if he's not already. A sign that there is indeed a need for more coordination on the ground there. So right now, the administration is quite defensive of their response there. Is quite defensive of and talking bureaucratic language about what is going on there. The underlying feeling of Puerto Rico is that look, it's an island, it is more difficult than Florida, more difficult of course than Houston. But of course, everyone knew Puerto Rico was an island going in to this. So, the question still is something that is ongoing and it is a -- we're hearing a theme that the President is not interested in paperwork, he's interested in people. Helping people there. So, there is no question now the administration seems to be focused

entirely on this. We still haven't heard the President talk about this at all today. In fact, unusually he no events on his public schedule today, Brooke. So, we're seeing a lot of advisers with some conflicting messages. The acting secretary of homeland security she said she was satisfied by the response. The FEMA chief said earlier today on CNN, he was not satisfied with the response. So that is another thing to point out. There is still no secretary of homeland security here. So, I think that this response will be looked at and examined for some time to come to see if it was effective. But of course, the immediate concern is on the ground there Brooke not what is happening back here in Washington.

BALDWIN: Of course. Jeff, thank you. Great questions there. We were talking to the Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who is in charge of the relief efforts in the wake of hurricane Katrina, he was just on live with me before that briefing. And Tom Bossert actually name checked him because General Honore is highly critical of administration, the response. Here is General Honore's response now.


LT GEN RUSSEL HONORE (RET), CNN COMMENTATOR: Hello, Brooke. Look, that was a good commentary about Tom Bossert. I got full confidence in that man as well as Mr. Brock over at FEMA. But they have to give General Buchan full command authority. There is a couple things that Mr. Bossert said that if they wanted to do air drops, he could make it as a recommendation. They have to have the authority to command and do what they need to do as well as waiver federal laws as needed to accomplish the mission. Otherwise they won't get to the people. And I still think we need second airborne or whoever the brigade is to be there tomorrow to help with distribution. There are 10,000 troops in Puerto Rico tonight. They ought to do a great job once they get another 5,000 to 10,000 federal troops. But remember, Katrina had 20,000 federal troops. Need a hell of a lot more troops then they got there on the ground. Thank you. And more helicopters, Katrina had 200 helicopters. Thank you for allowing me to comment.


General Honore, thank you so much for that. Let's go straight to the ground to Puerto Rico. To our correspondent there Boris Sanchez who standing by. We've been telling the stories and you are showing us -- your flank by all these different cargo containers full of aid. And the questions being, well why haven't they been dispersed? The White House just brought this up. So, let's just deal in facts here. What is going on?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, yes, in the last hour or so, we've seen an uptick in activity here at the port. The 10,000 or so cargo containers that have a been stuck at different ports around San Juan, are starting to move. I referenced the barge that's just off to our left a short while ago. Because several hundred were stuck there and they couldn't be unloaded because in wasn't space here on the port. We've seen many of them start to come out. But there certainly is some progress. [15:50:16] But there has been a dispute over the exact content of

these shipping containers. We heard from a spokesperson at the governor's office telling us that there was aid in these containers. And a short while ago we've heard from officials at the port saying that those were rumors, that those reports were false. There was no aid being stuck here at the port. To help us get through and clarify exactly what is going on, I again have the Jose Ayala. Thank you again for joining us. Hosea, he's the vice president of operations for Crowley in Puerto Rico. Help us understand, what exactly is on these containers? Is it aid or what is going on?

JOSE AYALA, VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS, CROWLEY MARITIME: Well the relief cargo has already been ungated by FEMA since the first day we reopened our terminal. Now, the commodities that are in these containers are no less important than the relief cargo that was consigned to FEMA. We still have water in these containers. There's till ice. There's still medicine. There's still building materials. There's till refrigerated food. And the importance of these containers is that we need to start moving them to their final destination.

Meaning the shelves, meaning the tables of the people of Puerto Rico. Because there's not enough water currently on the island, same as food as well. So, since day one, FEMA has been doing their job and they move their cargo immediately. But we need to start moving this commercial cargo as well. We need to make sure that if a Puerto Rican needs to go to the store and buy water, there's water on the shelves. That is needs to buy a can of food, there's food on the shelves. If it needs medicine in the pharmacies, there's medicine in the pharmacies as well. So that's the difference between the relief cargo consigned to FEMA, which is very important, but not more important or this one less important than that one. They're equally as important. So, FEMA's doing their job. Now we need to start the flow of the distribution supply chain on the island to make sure that these commodities just -- they reach their final destination. That's what we were saying that we need hands on, right? To make it.

SANCHEZ: Jose, thank you very much for taking the time. He's making the case that these resources are just as vital as resources brought here by FEMA. And that every day Puerto Ricans who are reaching out for portable water and can't find it, it doesn't really matter who is giving it to them -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Boris, thank you. We'll stay in close contact with you as that story progresses.

Let me quickly switch gears on to Tom Price, HHS secretary. I have Errol Louis sitting next to me, as we heard -- you know, listen, we heard the President yesterday. And the gaggle saying he doesn't know what he's going to do with Tom Price. Now we have word that Tom Price took 13 trips where he flew private, which, you know, totals thousands and thousands of tax payer dollars. Could he survive this?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't like his chances of survival. I think he ends up in a weakened position even if he manages to cling to the job. Because in order to run a vast, vast, very powerful bureaucracy like that, you have to have credibility. You've got have people on Capitol Hill. You've got to have people in your own agency who are going to listen when you try and exercise some leadership. He seems to have squandered some of that. And so, with that goodwill gone, with the President and perhaps other staff members at the White House now gunning for him, or at least very unimpressed with him. He's going to have a hard time doing that job.

BALDWIN: We'll see what happens with Tom Price's fate. In the meantime, leave you with this interview I did earlier with the mother who is Puerto Rican. Her son is down in Puerto Rico, she hasn't spoken with him in eight days. She is heartbroken. Here's our conversation.


JACQUIE GORMLEY, UNABLE TO REACH SON IN PUERTO RICO: I called him to go into a room with no windows. I said do not go anywhere near the doors, don't get curious, go hide in a closet. And lastly do not let go of your grandmother. Whatever happens, hold on tight to each other.

BALDWIN: And what did he say to you?

GORMLEY: I don't know. We lost communication.

BALDWIN: It's my understanding your son as asthma, is that right? And that he uses a device that requires electricity, none of which is --

GORMLEY: That is, Yes.

BALDWIN: -- is in existence. Can you tell me about that?

[15:55:00] GORMLEY: That is correct. He has an inhaler, which when I spoke to him on Monday, actually over the weekend. I said do you need know send you a new inhaler? He said no mom, I still have enough to last me until this blows over and you can just send it like Thursday. His nebulizer treatments are supposed to be every four hours, and especially when he's in high humidity area or the heat is pretty high. It gets worse.

BALDWIN: And that has, just his mom, that has to be incredibly concerning.

GORMLEY: As his mom, I just feel like I should be doing more. It shouldn't be happening.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about what you have been doing. I mean, it's my understanding you have been trying all kinds of different ways to get in touch with someone who could reach your son and his grandmother. You were able to get in touch with some relatives, but they, they were too far away.

GORMLEY: Correct. I was able to speak to my cousins that are in Dorado, that they said that the roads are so bad and some places that you can't even get passed all the debris and the trees that have fallen. So, they couldn't get in also the ration of gas they're getting is not enough to get them that far and they're actually about two and a half hours away from where my son is.

BALDWIN: And so it's almost like you get so far, and then you can't get people to go further to check on your family, what does that feel like?

GORMLEY: It feels horrible. You don't even know where to go. You pace back and forth. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking you missed a call or what did you miss? Get back on the computer. You know, I called every police station I can find on the internet in Puerto Rico and to no avail. I have written to PRFFA, I filled out forms. Just to get the generic letter five days later. Keep looking on our site for their name. I did the PR accurate form. Nothing. I went to FEMA and filled out another form. I have gone to Google and filled out their form. I've gone to the Red Cross and filmed out multiple forms.

I even called the phone number that governor Christie put for families in New Jersey that have loved ones in Puerto Rico. Only to get a live person to tell me, to give me a number, one said the Verizon customer you're trying to call is not in service. And the other number is a voice mail that I have called about 25 times and have left a voice mail every single time. To just get no response. So, I emailed my congressman, I posted it all over Facebook. I've joined every Facebook and Snapchat, Instagram, hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico, that's out there. Just to try and get some information or --

BALDWIN: Bless you.

GORMLEY: -- or just some word that, you know, your son is fine. Anything.

BALDWIN: If President Trump were watching right now, what would you say to him? What would you implore of him?

GORMLEY: I really don't need to hear about who's kneeling and who's standing, that's not what's important right now. That's not what we need to hear. He needs to just step up to the plate and be our fearless leader and handle this situation. It's not -- we're not some -- it's not a third world country, and it looks like that's where it's headed to and he is not really doing what he it is supposed to be doing. He's supposed to be there helping them and letting them get the services they need or at least funding them and not just taking his time to do so.

I beg him to just step up to the plate. To do what's right. And I know this man has it in his heart to do what's right. He just needs to think of it as that being his son. Because I'm pretty sure if that was his child or anybody in government job child that's of importance, they would know whether their child was OK or need anything and get them out of there sooner than later. So, this is uncalled for. It should not be happening. Not to me. Not to any other mother out there. Any brother, any sister, any aunt, uncle, it should not be happening to any of us right now. It's uncalled for. BALDWIN: You are sitting next to me I'd grab your hand right now,

Jacquie, I wish I could tell you it will be better. Let's be optimistic that finally the aid will get to where it needs to go. Let's you and I connect again once you hear from your son. Jacquie Gormley, thank you.

GORMLEY: Thank you, I appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

BALDWIN: Jacquie, thank you so very much. Obviously, we are staying all over this story in Puerto Rico. We're going to have so much more coverage coming up through the course of the next few hours including next in Washington. We're going to send it down there right now. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.