Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration Defending Hurricane Response; Pentagon Appoints 3-Star General For Puerto Rico Efforts; Urgent Medical Needs In Puerto Rico; Beyond The Call Of Duty. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 07:30   ET



[07:31:45] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump watching the show this morning, tweeting in response to the Puerto Rican governor's interview that we just did, saying -- you see that --

The "Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated the administration and the president, every time we've spoken, they've delivered."

He then said something else. He said, "The fact is Puerto Rico's been destroyed by two hurricanes."

Then, there's this sentence. Please focus on it. "Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding."

What does that mean? I didn't see anything like that after Florida, after Texas.

Let's discuss with somebody at the center of this relief effort, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert. Tom, thank you for joining us.

Can you help me understand? What does that mean, there are big decisions that will have to be made? It sounds like it's an open- ended question as to whether or not the government is prepared to do whatever is necessary.

TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, HOMELAND SECURITY: Chris, good morning, you're welcome. And well, let me tell you two answers.

First, we always have big discussions after disasters as to cost. What we need to know is that Puerto Rico started this one $72 billion in debt. So the president's a thousand percent right. We're going to have to figure out how to handle this as we move forward.

What he did do in the meantime was to make sure that --

CUOMO: Hold on one second. Hold on. Let me just --

BOSSERT: Well, now, let me -- let me --

CUOMO: No, you'll make all your points, Tom, I promise.

BOSSERT: So the idea of -- CUOMO: I'm not looking for an argument. But I don't understand the connection --

BOSSERT: The idea, Chris, here is that we --

CUOMO: -- between $72 billion in debt and whether you're going to help them rebuild.

BOSSERT: Hey, Chris.

CUOMO: Just make that point for me.

BOSSERT: Yes. So, let me finish answering.

The idea here, Chris, is with them being in debt they don't have enough ready liquid cash --


BOSSERT: -- to pay their normal share, like Florida and Texas had. Ready share --


BOSSERT: -- money to pay. So what we're going to do, and the president's already done it, is give a 180-day cost-share adjustment.

The federal government's paying 100 percent of the tab here to make sure lives are saved. We'll worry about the big decisions later. That's the president's point.

CUOMO: So the president's point is we'll do whatever it takes and we'll do it as time demands. That's what he meant when he said big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding?

BOSSERT: The president's already doing what it takes. What he's doing is what any good leader does, is looking at the horizon for decisions that are going to come over the next three, four weeks, and the next three, four months.

CUOMO: OK. So we'll assume that means that the full energy and effort will be there to rebuild Puerto Rico just like we need to see in Florida and Texas, and we'll stay on that from an accountability angle.

BOSSERT: Yes, that's cool.

CUOMO: Now to the larger question. There's no question the governor of Puerto Rico Rossello says you guys have been responsive, you have been active, you have been there for him. That has never been questioned.

He also acknowledges that the reality for millions of people on the ground is unacceptable and that the logistical scheme down there has been inadequate.

Both things can be true. Do you accept that?

BOSSERT: I don't accept that we're doing anything short of everything we can do.

Yes, I accept that the people are going to see at the very end -- the last -- the last person in the most hardest to reach area is going to receive the assistance in a way that's less acceptable than we'd like to. We'd like to give them a bottle of water and food immediately.

But I do accept that there's going to be a difference between a full- throated adequate response and the complete satisfaction of bringing that entire territory back to its full, functional state.

CUOMO: There's no question. It's all --


CUOMO: It's not the last person in the farthest outreach. Our reporters -- you go 25 minutes outside San Juan and you get a very different reality --

[07:35:00] BOSSERT: Yes.

CUOMO: -- and that is the truth of the situation.

It's not exaggerated, it's not hyped, it's not unfair, it's not non- contemporaneous. It's the reality right now on the ground there are far many -- too many people in a state of desperation. That's just the fact.

Would you differ with that?

BOSSERT: No. I guess, Chris, the slightly argumentative tone I'm taking here is that earlier in the day, probably at 6:20 -- 20 minutes ago -- you said to our colonel on the field that no one doubts our efforts or commitment -- his efforts or commitment. That's colonel's there because of President Trump.

And now, what I hear from you is that you're doubting his efforts and commitment, so which is it?

CUOMO: No. I think that this is about how you're perceiving it versus how it's said. I'll say it again.

The Corps of Engineers are good men and women. We know they're working their asses off. We understand that that's what's happening there. That's what they do every time out.

BOSSERT: Correct.

CUOMO: Nobody's questioning that there is a level of commitment. The question is has it been there from jump?

We know the president was slow to come to this with his public statements. That's a matter of fact. It's public record --


CUOMO: -- and you can see it from his Twitter.

If you want to have that debate, I'll have it with you. I think it's a little beside the point right now.


CUOMO: I'm not saying that FEMA wasn't there -- that Brock Long wasn't locked in.

But logistically, Gen. Honore has no reason to say that the logistics have been screwed up on the ground and needed to be adjusted gratuitously. That's not the kind of guy he is. We know what he did after Katrina. We know he knows the kind of situation.

So criticism of the logistics, things needing to be done better, which is echoed by the extra manpower and military influence you've put in place, seems to be the reality. It's not about shooting down the White House and building up the Corps of Engineers. It's about balanced reality.

BOSSERT: No, I don't think so. I think the criticism yesterday from you and your network wasn't well-placed. I think what President Trump did was put forces in place before the storm, not slow to respond after it. We had a four-star admiral and yesterday, your reporters were focusing on a three-star general.

We've got a system in place that deployed more men and women before the storm -- for this storm than we did for the last one. And we're coming off the third in a row of successful response efforts.

Now, to your point, though, Chris, I can see it's a difficult situation in an island involved in a major hurricane to bring in all those supplies and then successfully distribute them.

I think that's the governor's distinction earlier today. He's in receive mode of millions and millions of gallons of water, food, 10,000 people that he's bringing onto his island to help distribute the aid to his people. And now, he's running into closed roads, downed power lines, and the other destructive forces of nature.

So that is -- and you've seen this. There was a comparison to a war zone that you've attended earlier this morning on your show. What you're now seeing, though, is a collective, unified effort of all levels of government overcoming that challenge.

CUOMO: There's no question that the effort is there. It's about was it there from jump. And again --


CUOMO: -- you can see it as criticism of the president. That's not the intention. It's about delivering help to those people in need.

BOSSERT: Yes. CUOMO: That's all that really -- that's all that really matters here. We can have all these other debates later on.

But, you know, in terms of --


CUOMO: -- well, this is the media or misplaced criticism.

General Honore ain't a reporter, OK?


CUOMO: He's a guy who knows the field, knows logistics, knows what it takes. He's been critical. What do you say to him?

BOSSERT: Well, I've known Gen. Honore since I served with him during the Katrina response and I talk to him regularly. In fact, I talked to him yesterday. What he's observing is the same logistical challenges.

What he's wrong on was his assessment that we didn't have a three-star general command in charge or in place in time. That's an assessment based on his experiences in Katrina which, quite frankly, this government has fixed in the last eight to 10 years since.

That three-star general was there. In fact, he took ground force command from our four-star admiral who had it prior to the storm.

So what we do is we forward deploy and we have assets controlled by Northern Command. But we have a military command structure that's in place in between there that we either base out of Port Sam Houston or off the Kearsarge, which is what we did this time off the island. So we were afloat with men and women here to help.

And we can debate it later, Chris, but I want to make sure today you know that Brock Long is committed to this response, I'm committed to this response. And between the two of us, we've got the Homeland Security and FEMA emergency management community headed in the right direction.

CUOMO: I have no question about what Brock Long has been up to. That doesn't mean that criticism of the president waiting about a week before he started talking about this is unfair.

There's no question that you've made changes to improve the logistical command on the ground in Puerto Rico. That's just true. We're seeing it every day.


CUOMO: Why did you have to change it?


CUOMO: Because it was inadequate. BOSSERT: No.

CUOMO: You can see that as criticism. I see it as an adjustment of reality. What's the difference?

BOSSERT: Yes. I just -- I just see your assessment as wrong, Chris, so there's not too much to debate on that.

CUOMO: Where is it wrong?

BOSSERT: What we do is we have to adjust it so -- I guess I'll back up. Every disaster is different. Let me walk you through the brief history of how we responded to each one correctly.

We responded to the disaster in Texas with the affordable and reasonable access to trucks, restoration crews, and so forth that brings it to the continental contiguous United States.

We responded to Florida, because it's a peninsula, differently. We had to mobilize a Naval and Marine force because we had to bring fuel via water into that disaster. That was a constraint.

[07:40:06] Now, we're dealing with an island over 1,100 miles away from the closest sea and airports in Florida and we have to adjust to the circumstances on the ground.

Every viewer understands that. We didn't adjust because we were wrong or poor in our planning. We adjusted because the conditions warranted.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see what lessons are learned coming out of it. And again, the exigency is taking care of the people that we see in distress.

And, you know, I don't think it requires an apology to say it's not time to congratulate ourselves for an effort when you've got a million and a half people that don't have access to clean water.

BOSSERT: Well, I'm not looking for an apology.

CUOMO: Nobody's questioning your efforts.

BOSSERT: I'm not looking for an apology, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, I'm saying just in response to what the president is seeming to imply about this.


CUOMO: Nobody's questioning your efforts. We appreciate them. You please let us know what we can do to assist you in your efforts to get the information out to help the recovery.

BOSSERT: Yes, thank you very much. And our prayers, and our thoughts, and our efforts are there with the men and women of Puerto Rico. CUOMO: Absolutely -- Alisyn.


As you and Tom Bossert were just discussing, a three-star general is now on the ground in Puerto Rico to take the lead on military operations in this relief effort.

So joining us on the phone is that general, Jeffrey Buchanan. Good morning, General.


CAMEROTA: I'm well. It's great to have you take the time to talk to us. I know you have a daunting day ahead of you -- and weeks, I should say.

I don't know if you just heard that interview with Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert talking about what day would have been best for you to arrive. You arrived yesterday. Should you have been on the ground earlier?

BUCHANAN: Well, ma'am, we had part of our team on the ground starting on the fourth of September in preparation for Irma and they've been here ever since.

But the right answer is this is from a U.S. Northern Command perspective, General Robinson. You know, this was dominantly, in the beginning, a maritime response and so we had the Joint Force Maritime Component Command led by Admiral Davidson, and Rear Admiral Hughes off the coast providing that support while we in the land component provided support to Texas for Harvey and Florida for Irma.


BUCHANAN: And now that we're going to a dominantly land-based operation, Gen. Robinson made the decision to switch -- excuse me, switch to a land-based operation --


BUCHANAN: -- and that's why I'm here.

CAMEROTA: I understand.

And look, the question is only because it's nine days after the hurricane and so we just keep hearing reports and seeing them with our own eyes of people who are desperate, you know. They're desperate for water, they're desperate for food. And we hear about these supply containers that are sitting at the port unable to get to people because of lack of drivers, lack of fuel.

So would it have helped if you, a land-based general, were there earlier? BUCHANAN: I think that we had exactly the right support. The problem, you know, from the beginning with the maritime-based approach -- and Adm. Hughes and his team have been doing phenomenal work there -- but the problem is that we've had all kinds of massive damage to the island's infrastructure, including routes.

And so, much of our support has been from off the shore, based off of Navy ships, as well as Air Force -- or correction, air components. So, Navy, Marine Force, Marine Corps, and Army helicopters delivering supplies.

The -- just talking to the FEMA regional administrator. There are a lot of containers at the -- at the ports, but the FEMA containers that have come in prior to the storm and after the storm are actually up and moving.


BUCHANAN: A lot of those are commercial contracts. We still need them to get moved --


BUCHANAN: -- but that's really dependent on a lot of what's going on here as far as civilians working in Puerto Rico.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that because we understand there are somewhere between -- there's different reports -- 3,000 and 10,000 of these containers. And as you say, these are kind of everyday supplies. These are food and water. Not FEMA -- these are the things that the island just needs in a regular day to try to function.

Can you get these moving today?

BUCHANAN: Right. Well, we work in direct support of FEMA so it really depends on what the -- what are in those containers. And the things like food, water, and fuel are desperately needed by all the people and that's where our priority is to move.

But a lot of those containers are just regular commercial goods -- T.V.s -- things like this, and so it's not our priority and it's not FEMA's priority to move those.

So we work to help FEMA which is all really in direct support of the commonwealth. And we're working together as a team to help the people get back on their feet.

CAMEROTA: Now that you've seen this with your own eyes, now that you're on the ground, do you think that the 10,000 federal responders that are there are enough?

BUCHANAN: Well, we're certainly bringing in more.

For example, on the military side, we're bringing in both Air Force, Navy, and Army medical capabilities in addition to more aircraft -- rotary wing aircraft, helicopters of different types -- and a lot of logistical support. So, you know, the answer is no, it's not enough and we're bringing more in.

[07:45:07] CAMEROTA: When will those arrive?

BUCHANAN: Well, they really start -- we get some of our logistics capability and more aircraft start arriving tonight. The medical capability, depending on the service, arrives over the next two weeks and it starts as early as this week and stretches over the next two weeks.

I mean, one of these is as large -- we've got the Navy ship Comfort coming. We've got an Army combat support -- or combat support hospital, which is a -- think about it as a mobile tent-based, power- generated, 44-bed hospital.


BUCHANAN: So it's all coming, it's just going to take time to build up.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, General, you know, back to the original point. The Navy ship Comfort -- could that have been in place seven days ago? Could that have been in place sooner?

BUCHANAN: Ma'am --

CAMEROTA: I mean, listen, General, I'm only asking --

BUCHANAN: Alisyn, I've got to -- you know, I --

CAMEROTA: -- because we hear from so many people who say they're desperate for their medication, they're desperate for help.

BUCHANAN: Right, and we have been -- we have been providing a lot of medical support but we know that there's a lot more needed.

CAMEROTA: So shouldn't it have been there days earlier?

BUCHANAN: Ma'am, I'm not going to judge anything. I think that we're here now and we're working forward to help the people get what they need.

CAMEROTA: General, how long do you think this rebuilding effort will take?

BUCHANAN: Well, as far as the complete recovery under FEMA's lead, you know, this is going to -- this is a very, very long duration mission.

I mean, think about it from the Army Corps of Engineers which has been asked to take lead for power distribution on the electrical grid, you know. We -- we're doing fine probably with power generation, although generators and power plants need fuel.

But the problem is the entire infrastructure, as far as transmission of power, is down. So it's not -- it's not going to be a short-term project to rebuild all those electrical lines. And, you know, we're going to -- we're going to be here in support of FEMA and the commonwealth for as long as we need to to get the work done and get the people back up on their feet.

CAMEROTA: Understood. You have a lot of work ahead of you.

General Jeffrey Buchanan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

BUCHANAN: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CUOMO: All right. So you keep hearing this theme of there's tremendous need on the ground and it drives an urgency for more in terms of response.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live in San Juan. He has seen the medical need firsthand.

You've heard those interviews, Sanjay. You've heard from the general just kind of a -- not so much a defense but an explanation of the efforts on the ground and the challenges.

From the political side, there's no question that the president wants approval, and acceptance, and praise for what he's done so far. He doesn't want any blame. But the reality is whatever's being done clearly isn't enough.

What do your eyes tell you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting.

I think that the -- in some ways I would say that the -- so much of the force of the relief effort was on getting some of these goods to Puerto Rico, which is very understandable. You need to get things on the ground here -- medications, antibiotics, pain medications, but also fuel, sat phones, all those things that you know, Chris, are needed after a disaster like this.

But I think that was has happened though is that after it arrived it didn't really go anywhere. And I think from a medical standpoint the analogy is you've created a really good treatment and that should be applauded, that should be celebrated. But if the people who needed the treatment didn't get it, what have you really accomplished?

That's what I sort of thought as I was listening to those interviews and it's also something that I saw as we went outside of San Juan to visit places last night.



GUPTA: This is 62-year-old Josefina Alvarez's reality. Look at what happened to us, she pleads. Nobody is taking care of us.

For two weeks, Ms. Alvarez has been here in a shelter an hour outside of San Juan, but may as well be on a different island altogether. And like thousands of others she's become really sick.

DR. ASTRID MORALES, VOLUNTEER: We have no hospital to get her because all the emergency are closed because they have no electricity. And we have no place to get her. She's getting more complicated.

GUPTA: Dr. Astrid Morales, a volunteer at the shelter, has tried everything to get Alvarez to a hospital.

An ambulance we saw just left.

MORALES: Yes because they have no authorization from the -- their bosses to let --

GUPTA: That seems -- that seems ridiculous.

MORALES: Tell me about it.

GUPTA: I mean, we're in the middle of a -- we're in the middle of a disaster -- in the middle of a crisis --

MORALES: And we're --

GUPTA: -- and you're waiting for paperwork?


[07:50:00] GUPTA: This is a very treatable problem under any other circumstance.

MORALES: Yes, sure.

GUPTA: Get her to the hospital, put an I.V. in.

MORALES: Probably a few hours of I.V. antibiotics and then she can go home.

GUPTA: What happens if she doesn't get those?

MORALES: Well, she might get her infection to the blood and get complicated with sepsis, and even death.

GUPTA: There's no communication anywhere here so we give her our satellite phone to try and call for help.

MORALES: (foreign language spoken).

GUPTA: Puerto Rico's Secretary of Health finds a hospital for Alvarez but then the same problem, how to get her there.

We can take the patient. I'm a doctor. We can take the patient ourselves. And I know time is of the essence here, but the secretary is there. MORALES: Well, he already accepted the patient --


MORALES: -- so she --

GUPTA: Yes, we could -- we could do that.

ALVAREZ: I'm so --

GUPTA: You can't even believe what's happening here. I mean, she's -- there's no power, there's no water, she's a diabetic, she doesn't have insulin. She has an infection that could threaten her life. No ambulance will take her to the hospital.

That's what's happening here.

That's OK -- right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wants to sit from this side.

GUPTA: OK, I see the ulceration, yes.

ALVAREZ: (foreign language spoken).

GUPTA: Can you move the wheelchair up, please?

There's nothing about this that makes sense. I mean, look what we're doing here. We're transporting a patient. This is not an ambulance but it's the only thing that we really have right now to get her to the care that she needs.

There are probably thousands of patients who are in similar shelters with no power, no water, no medications, no way out. There are probably thousands more who are still in their homes who haven't even been able to get to a shelter. So she's just one example of what's happening here.

We've been deciding (ph) a bit. So we're trying to just get her into the triage area.

OK, one more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait, wait, wait.

GUPTA: Watch out, watch out.


GUPTA: And, Josefina Alvarez, we understand, is still in this disaster management assistance team tent and that is part of HHS, Health and Human Services. She's scheduled to get surgery.

But again, as she's one person out of thousands who may be in a similar predicament. She's going to get her treatment, she's going to get her therapy. But there may be many more out there in shelters and in their homes still who need this exact sort of therapy.

CAMEROTA: Right, Sanjay. I mean, you just happened to find this one woman you happened to be able to have the resources and skill to help. This is just one story. There are three and a half million people there in Puerto Rico.

And so when we get the -- when we hear the death toll and how blessedly low it has been -- 13, I think -- 16 -- something like that at last count -- you know, it's very -- it's very concerning about what's going to happen in these next days if there are other people in that predicament, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Yes, and you know, one thing, Alisyn, I point out is that we measure death tolls because I think they're an easy number to measure, you know. It's very clear. X number of people have died and X number of people have survived.

It's not like that in real life. I mean, there can be countless people who are suffering who may be alive but they're really caught in between life and death in some way and their lives are forever changed. It doesn't end for them.

So, I think that that death toll number is one that, obviously, we pay attention to but you should take that in context.

And when people talk about humanitarian crisis, that is not a term that should be used lightly but what it means is that people die that didn't need to. They're people whose deaths could have been prevented. They didn't die as a result of a hurricane specifically, they died as the result of its aftermath, and that's incredibly sad when you see that happening.

CAMEROTA: Yes, yes.

CUOMO: And you have to stay on it to know it. Sanjay has lived a life in the media doing this.

It's not now, it's not next week. It's a month from now, three months from now, six months from now that you'll see these effects.

Sanjay, thank you for being one of those helpful people, my brother. Thank you for what you're doing.

GUPTA: Thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.

CUOMO: We have more on what's going on in Puerto Rico.

But first, police officers, we all know they go beyond the call of duty. How ditching their uniforms is helping them battle the opioid crisis. That's next.


[07:57:52] CUOMO: First lady Melania Trump leading her first roundtable policy discussion. The issue couldn't be more urgent, the opioid crisis in America. Many of those invited to the event were directly affected by opioid abuse.

CAMEROTA: Ohio is one the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis so now, sheriff's deputies there are trying an innovative idea.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen has more on deputies going beyond the call of duty.



ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Charles Johnson has hung up this uniform for this uniform because of the opioid epidemic.

As a deputy sheriff in Lucas County, Ohio, it's Johnson's job to visit overdose survivors in the hospital and try to save them.

You're not there to arrest them?


COHEN: What are you there to do?

JOHNSON: I'm there to convince them to live. I'm convincing them that they have a second chance.

COHEN: Do you think it makes a difference that they see you in a coat and tie rather than a sheriff's uniform?

JOHNSON: Absolutely, I think so. For you to go in a uniform you could offer him all the help in the world and he's going to shut you down.

COHEN: Every day, on average, six people overdose in his county.

JOHNSON: They'll meet their dealer up here in this parking lot and that's where they'll -- they'll shoot up right here.

COHEN: On this day, Johnson gets a call to visit a woman in this Toledo emergency room. It turns out he knows her. She's a waitress in a local restaurant.

JOHNSON: She's waited on me and my wife there. I know her personally.

These people are overdosing, they're your mailman, they're your neighbors, they're your -- they're your friends.

COHEN: More counselor than cop, Johnson promises that his team will drive her to detox.

JOHNSON: Her and I made an agreement and we're going to go for it.

CODY MORRIS, RECOVERING HEROIN ADDICT: We met at the hospital and I was laying on that bed and you showed up and gave me an opportunity, man.

COHEN: Since 2014, Johnson and his team have convinced nearly 80 percent of overdose survivors to go into detox, an impressive number according to addiction specialists.

You stick around in these people's lives.

JOHNSON: You know what, I remember every one of their names. I stop in and visit their homes, I know their families, I visit them in jails. I be the parent to 100 addicts.

COHEN: You've been to jail 12 times.

MORRIS: Yes. Every time I got out of jail I went back to the same thing. Every single time.

COHEN: Having Charles around, did it make it easier to come off of heroin?

MORRIS: Yes, and he thanked me and he had only had known me for 10 minutes.

He was like Cody can do this, he's got this. And you were staying in touch making sure I was doing the right thing, you know, going you working today? Yes, I'm working.