In the midst of interviewing government officials responsible for coordinating the federal response to Hurricane Florence, all three broadcast Sunday shows harangued those relief workers with questions about President Trump’s recent comments about Hurricane Maria.
ABC’s This Week kicked off the spectacle with fill-in host and chief White House correspondent Jon Karl badgered Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz about what he witnessed in Puerto Rico. Despite admitting that his guest was “intimately involved in that effort” and that the “Coast Guard did a lot of good work down in Puerto Rico”, Karl still scoffed at Trump calling it an “incredible unsung success.” “Is that the way you saw it,” he asked the Admiral.
“I would say, the response to Maria was massive…” Admiral Schultz said in defense of the federal relief effort. “It’s an island which makes it challenging. The supplies lifted in by sea, by air. I’ve got 600-plus Coast Guard men and women that call Puerto Rico home, they work out of there. We leaned in with every bit of energy we could as a federal agency. I saw my FEMA colleagues, other agencies working hard.”
Both CBS’s Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press had FEMA Administrator Brock Long on and they put him through the wringer over Trump’s comments.
“The President said that 3,000 number didn't exist that they didn't die. So, how is it true that you're preparing for interruption of medical care in Florence but the President says people whoever died as result of interruption in medical care in Puerto Rico are not worth counting,” asked a hostile sounding John Dickerson on CBS.
Long explained to Dickerson that there were a few different studies of the death toll from Maria and the longer out the study went the larger the number was. But he pointed to the FEMA workers over his shoulder and emphasized that “around here, one death-- these guys know one death is a death too many. We work every day to make sure that we try to prevent that.”
“They interviewed people from FEMA to come up with that number. So who’s right, the President who says those deaths didn't happen or the FEMA officials who helped GW put together that report,” Dickerson demanded to know. According to Long, the only death number FEMA tracks was from those who applied for funeral benefits.
MTP moderator Chuck Todd grilled Long on whether or not President Trump or he learned any sort of lesson from Maria. “And the President went off and, sort of, didn't accept the premise that there were lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico? Were there lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico for you sir?”
“I think the President is being taken out of context there. I mean, I talk to the President every day this week and the Secretary of Homeland Security and we discuss what we’re trying to do as a result of last year. He’s well aware of that,” Long shot back.
Todd then lashed out at the White House and demanded Long answer “why does it matter? Why is the White House so concerned about 3,000 deaths and say another report that might have had it at 1,800 deaths?”
Further keeping Long from his duties with politically charged questions, Todd also wanted him to say if he thought Democrats crafted the number like the President claimed. But Long didn’t take the bait and repeated his answer about FEMA tracking funeral benefits.
With these types of questions, it’s hard to believe these men were there to talk about an unfolding disaster.
The transcripts are below, click "expand" to read:
September 16, 2018
9:10:46 a.m. Eastern
JON KARL: Before you go, I got to ask you about the President’s comments on Hurricane Maria. You were intimately involved in that effort. Coast Guard did a lot of good work down in Puerto Rico. But, the President called that relief effort an “incredible unsung success.” Is that the way you saw it?
COAST GUARD ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ: Jon, I’ll you this, every relief -- every storm is very different. We're seeing that play out. I just spoke a little bit about Florence, what was predicted what was actual. I would say, the response to Maria was massive in terms of—It’s an island which makes it challenging. The supplies lifted in by sea, by air. I’ve got 600 plus Coast Guard men and women that call Puerto Rico home, they work out of there. We leaned in with every bit of energy we could as a federal agency. I saw my FEMA colleagues, other agencies working hard. You know, the dispute about numbers, those are locally generated numbers. I believe that the Department of Homeland Security welcomes transparency on that. I’m focused on this storm, that’s what’s in our wheelhouse today. We want to make sure we’re protecting the citizens of the Carolinas.
KARL: But you saw the devastation firsthand. You don't have any reason to doubt that official death toll, do you?
SCHULTZ: I'm not calling any numbers into doubt. What I’m saying Jon is, I was – as our team was part of it, we were very much supported, empowered to get down there and try to be helpful. It's a challenging area. The localities, you go from San Juan were the major population center is out to remote areas. We had men and women, you know, driving material in, flying materials in, off-duty, when they’re supposed to be getting some rest, carrying water and things like that. I saw what I saw. And I know the fed efforts that I saw were very much committed to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Face the Nation
September 16, 2018
10:37:11 a.m. Eastern
JOHN DICKERSON: The interruption of medical care that you were just talking about was responsible, I believe, for 47 percent of fatalities in Katrina and is a big part of that number that's been disputed this week about Puerto Rico. The 3,000 number. The President said that 3,000 number didn't exist that they didn't die. So, how is it true that you're preparing for interruption of medical care in Florence but the President says people whoever died as result of interruption in medical care in Puerto Rico are not worth counting?
FEMA ADMIN. BROCK LONG: If you look at the root cause of any problem is, one-- Around here, one death, these guys know one death is a death too many. We work every day to make sure that we try to prevent that. But if you want to get into Puerto Rico from the standpoint of what needs to happen next, you got to fix aging infrastructure that wasn't ready to support the commonwealth before the storm hit and when they were blown out and the infrastructure was blown out, it exponentially causes problems on the back end.
DICKERSON: But the reason it's so important, obviously, is if you figure out how people died last time you can keep it from happening again. You say the numbers are all over the place. But the numbers are more than zero which is what the President said, he said the deaths didn't happen. I guess my question is this, the GW report as you mentioned—again, the bulk of the interruption of medical care which you're trying to take care of in Florence. They interviewed people from FEMA to come up with that number. So who’s right, the president who says those deaths didn't happen or the FEMA officials who helped GW put together that report?
LONG: I don't know who they interviewed within my agency may have looked at funeral benefits to help calculate whatever number. That's a number -- that's the only number that we would be able to contribute to any study going forward. But as far as--
DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, Puerto Rico might get hit again during hurricane season, people who worry about dying from interruption of medical care, which is the bulk of those deaths that gets into 3,000 number, is FEMA concerned about people who might die from that result in Puerto Rico?
Meet the Press
September 16, 2018
10:40:17 a.m. Eastern
CHUCK TODD: As this—As your preparation began, a reporter asked a simple question about what lessons were learned from Puerto Rico.
FEMA ADMIN. BROCK LONG: Sure.
TODD: And the President went off and, sort of, didn't accept the premise that there were lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico? Were there lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico for you sir?
LONG: Yeah, I don’t believe-- I think the President is being taken out of context there. I mean, I talk to the President every day this week and the Secretary of Homeland Security and we discuss what we’re trying to do as a result of last year. He’s well aware of that. The thing about Puerto Rico is, disaster response and recovery is a whole community team effort.
TODD: The President has been disputing the death toll. Multiple tweets. He said, “over many months it went from 64 people. Then, like magic, 3,000 people killed.” Believe it or not, Mr. Long, the White House put out a five page backgrounder citing other death toll numbers that were less than the one that the Governor of Puerto Rico has accepted. 2,975 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria or impact of Hurricane Maria, according to the Puerto Rican government. Does FEMA accept that number?
LONG: The numbers are all over the place. FEMA doesn't count deaths, and if you take what's going on with Florence, the deaths that are verified by the local county corners, are the ones that we take. Now, what we do offer are funeral benefits after disaster for those who are eligible. And so, those are some of the numbers you can put forward that can be cross referenced with any other numbers that are out there. But here’s the thing, these guys are so dedicated. They work around the clock, one death is a death too many.
TODD: Why does it matter? Why is the White House so concerned about 3,000 deaths and say another report that might have had it at 1,800 deaths? You’ve said yourself, it doesn't matter, but the White House believes it matters. Why?
LONG: Well, I’ll tell you this, one thing about President Trump is that he is probably the one president who has had more support for what goes on back here. And I think he’s defensive because he knows how hard these guys behind me work day in and day out in a very complex situation.
TODD: He said Democrats did it to make him look bad. Do you believe any of these studies were done to make the President look bad?