Earlier this afternoon President Donald Trump met with Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico in the oval office.
[Raw Transcript – Not Yet finalized] President Trump – “It’s great to have the governor of Puerto Rico with us and we have gotten to know each other extremely well over the last couple of weeks. And I can tell you, you are a hard working governor. It’s a tough situation. So much has to be rebuilt, even from before.
The difference between Texas and Florida and various places is, we’re looking at designs of a new power plant that big electrical plant and many different designs and concepts, which of course, is very unusual because it was in pretty rough shape prior. And now, it’s in even rougher shape … with that being said, I think we’ve done a really great job and we’ve had tremendous cooperation from the governor. And we are getting there and people are really seeing the effort that’s been put into Puerto Rico.
It’s been a very, very difficult situation for many people. I will say that especially the island nature, if you look at getting food there … the distribution was very difficult because the roads were blocked and even the people of Puerto Rico couldn’t get to their food. In many cases, because of the distribution centers and the roads were in really horrific shape because of the storm and sometimes because of before the storm. But with that being said, step by step, it’s taken care of and I say we have a wonderful and the people of Puerto Rico have a wonderful representative with respect to themselves in this governor. This governor has worked as hard as anybody I’ve seen. And getting done. So, just thank you for all your help.”
GovernorRossell followed the president with his own remarks:
“Thank you Mr. President. Thank you for setting this opportunity. You know, it’s a catastrophic situation in Puerto Rico. As you know, it is the only time where two category four, category five hurricanes have passed back to back in a jurisdiction in the United States. But certainly working in a united front we are going to beat this.
We’re going to build better than before. And today, it’s an example. And Mr. President, I don’t think, in the history of Puerto Rico, we’ve had the opportunity we’ve had today to sit with members of your Cabinet, decision makers, and not only talk about what we’ve done, but also the path forward to establish a commitment to treat the citizens of Puerto Rico, the U.S. citizens, proud U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.
So, while there has been a lot done and I want to thank you personally Mr. President you answered our call for the pre-land emergency declaration, you declared Puerto Rico a disaster area very quickly … a verbal request that we made because we didn’t have electricity at that moment, you gave us the waiver for A/B, A and B for FEMA, and staunch communication with all of your members. Now, we recognize that a lot of it has been done, but a lot has still has to be done.
So we’re hopeful that, with this meetings that we’re going to have, we’re going to talk about the immediate needs for Puerto Rico, what we need to do to get out of the life sustaining phase, what we need to do to stabilize Puerto Rico, and of course, what we need to do to build Puerto Rico stronger and better than before. I am confident that, with your commitment and with your support Mr. President, with your teams support, we will be able to come out of this in the long haul together with Puerto Rico and give the U.S. citizens the adequate resources. Treat us the same as citizens in Texas, in Florida, and elsewhere. We will come out of this stronger and we will make this innovative Mr. President.
I know you are a proponent of public/private partnerships. And I think there is an opportunity here to leverage growth in the energy sector and to be innovative. Not only rebuild what we had in the past, but also with the aid of the federal government, and with the private sector, rebuild a much more, much stronger platform, and not only have Puerto Rico have energy, but actually be a model of sustainable energy and growth towards the future. Those are our aspirations.
I think we can talk about that in the education sector, in the health care sector, and those are all of our aspirations. We are confident that, within this group, we will start addressing those poignant short term needs, but also talking about the long road ahead, working together, working together with your administration.
And again I want to thank you on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico for your leadership, for your teams’ leadership, and for having a commitment to stay with the people of Puerto Rico, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico here for the long haul, to not just put things back together again, but to rebuild them as it should.”
President Trump then continued to speak.
“Thank you governor, one of the things we have done is delivered to the island massive numbers of generators for electricity, because with the power plants down and in such bad shape, we really had to find some way to get especially for the hospitals and certain other areas. And we have, I don’t know if it’s record numbers, but it’s got to be pretty close record numbers of generators so that we have electric in the most important locations. And step-by-step bringing it back. But you can’t really bring electric back until you rebuild the power plant and that’s obviously a different level of subject.
With that, I will say that I have given my blessing to Congress and Congress is working with you and your representatives on coming up with a plan and a payment plan and how it’s all going to be funded. Because you are talking about some substantial numbers and I guess you knew that. But I know you were talking about rebuilding your electric plant long before the hurricane. You’d been wanting to do that for a long time.”
“That’s right,”Rossell said.
“So, maybe this is a reason you can do it and we’ll help you and we’ll all do it together. But I will say this, the people of Puerto Rico are amazing. Just incredible people, the spirit they have, the strength they have, what they’ve gone through. Many were isolated in areas where there were no roads, there were no bridges. The bridges were wiped out. It really was incredible to watch the spirit that they have and they did it with grace, they did it with a smile in many cases. It was really something beautiful to watch. So just please extend all of our warmest regards and we’re with you.”
The pair then took questions.
♦President Trump what grade between one and ten he would give the White House response?
“I’d say it was a ten. I’d say it was probably the most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels, and even when you talk about lives saved. If you look at the number, I mean this was, I think, it was worse than Katrina. It was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen.”
♦If President thinks Puerto Rico should become a state?
“Well, we’re not talking about that now,” Trump said. “You’ll get me into trouble with that question.”
Trump then asked to “hold that one” for “a later time.”
Trump was also asked if he had a prediction for today’s budget vote. He predicted Republicans would succeed:
“I think we’ll be successful tonight and it will be possibly sometime in the morning, maybe sooner. i think we have the votes for the budget, which will be phase one of our massive tax cuts and reform. But I think we’ll be successful tonight with respect to the budget.”
After offering his budget prediction, Trump then expressed optimism about the prospects for tax reform.
“Frankly, I think we have the votes with the tax cuts, which will follow fairly shortly thereafter,” Trump said.
Rossell did not offer a number when asked if he could also rate the White House response from one to ten, though he was complimentary. At one point, Trump asked Rossell to assess the response.
“Did the United States, did our government, when we come in, did we do a great job? Military, first responders, FEMA, did we do a great job?”
This was Rossell’s answer:
“You responded immediately sir and you did so you know Tom and Brock, they have been on the phone with me essentially every day since the disaster. We recognize that there are some logistical limitations that we have in Puerto Rico. We didn’t have the ports open for a couple of days.
We didn’t have the airports open at full capacity until about a day or two ago. So, that was always a great limiting step. But if you consider that we’ve gotten, even with those obstacles, we’ve gotten about 15,000 DOD personnel in Puerto Rico, about 2,000 FEMA personnel, HHS and others. The response is there. Do we need to do a lot more? Of course we do and I think everyone over here recognizes there’s a lot of work to be done in Puerto Rico. But with your leadership sir and with everybody over here we’re committed to achieving that in the long run.”
Trump was also asked for thoughts on President George W. Bush’s speech.
“I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it,” he said.
On health care, Trump was asked if he supports the Alexander-Murray bill.
“I like people working on plans at all times. I think, ultimately, block grants is the way to go,” Trump said.
The president continued to discuss health care:
“Various states really wanted that block grant money. And for the most part, I think we have the votes for that. There will be a transition period so anything they’re working on will be short term. It’ll be absolutely short term because, ultimately, we will be it’s going to be repeal and replace. So, I have great respect, as you know, for both of the senators that you mentioned and if they can come up with a short term solution. What i did say though is, I don’t want the insurance companies making any more money … than they have to.”
Trump then clarified that short term means “one year to two years max.”
“Because I think we have the votes. We’re certainly within one vote and when you’re within one vote, we’re able to get it,” Trump said of health care, adding, “Votes are very fragile. We found that out and we’ve seen that. I’ve learned that. I thought we had it the last time and somebody came out of the blue and voted against it. So, now we start the process all over again.”