11:40 A.M. EDT
Q Mr. Vice President, it is an honor, truly. Thank you so much for joining us tonight here on News 6.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Erik.
Q Sir, we’re going to start here in Central Florida. I talked to many, many Central Floridians since Hurricane Irma slammed us here earlier this month. Many are very grateful for the federal government’s assistance, in particular, from FEMA where you are there.
Some, though, have expressed that it has been difficult to get assistance from FEMA. In your opinion, how is the federal government doing here in Central Florida helping people after Hurricane Irma?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, President Trump and I met yesterday with Governor Rick Scott at the White House just to get an update on the response to Hurricane Irma. Frankly, we couldn’t be more proud of the leadership Governor Scott provided in Florida and the response of all the agencies of government — including the folks here at FEMA and on the ground — to the devastating impacts in Florida. It really is a testament to the strength of Floridians and to all of the enterprises that have come alongside to get the electrical grid back up and operational that we’ve made the progress we’ve made.
But any of your citizens who have not yet applied for the federal assistance that is available — available to homeowners, available to businesses — should join the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have signed up for that support, and we’ll make sure that support continues to flow.
Q You believe FEMA is available enough to us here in Central Florida that anyone who needs it could get it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We do. You know, it’s been an extraordinary season of hurricanes, from Texas, to Florida, to of course the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where we continue to work with great urgency surging resources into that region.
But we really couldn’t be more proud of the hardworking team here at FEMA and out in the field — the tens of thousands of personnel who were involved initially in the rescue operations, and now in the recovery efforts. And we’re going to see Florida, we’re going to see Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico all the way back until — as the President often says — until they’re bigger and stronger than ever before.
Q Specifically about Puerto Rico, Mr. Vice President: How would you characterize the federal government’s relief efforts right now in Puerto Rico?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Puerto Rico obviously was struck with a category 5 hurricane nine days ago. And literally, since even before landfall, FEMA and the federal response have been moving resources, moving personnel into that extraordinary crisis, and we’re making steady progress.
The President directed me to come to FEMA this morning. We spoke to Governor Rossello and Governor Mapp in the Virgin Islands, and we got an update on both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and we’re making great progress — at this point, 10,000 federal officials.
Got a good report this morning — in Puerto Rico, for instance, Erik, 11 major highways are open, more than 750 gas stations are operational, more than half the grocery stores are back up and beginning to service constituents, 90 percent of the hospitals.
But there’s still much work to do, and President Trump and I are absolutely determined to continue to support Governor Rossello and all the local officials all across Puerto Rico and of course in the U.S. Virgin Islands until these communities come all the way back. But it’s been an extraordinary challenge.
We continue to lean into it, but we couldn’t be more proud of our first responders, Coast Guard, Marines, our FEMA personnel on the ground — and we couldn’t be more grateful for Governor Rossello in Puerto Rico, Governor Mapp in the Virgin Islands for the leadership that they have provided for their people in this very difficult time.
Q As you’re likely aware, sir, President Trump just tweeted this morning “such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan and other in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.” Do you agree with that assessment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it is frustrating, I expect, to millions of Americans to hear rhetoric coming out from some in Puerto Rico, particularly the mayor of San Juan, instead of focusing on results.
What I learned this morning is that, while our joint field operation at the convention center in San Juan has more than 1,000 personnel working out in a football field environment, the mayor of San Juan has only visited our joint field operation once. And we would just encourage her to come alongside Governor Rossello, come alongside other mayors across Puerto Rico, and of course FEMA and federal officials and Department of Defense officials who are focusing on continuing to make the steady progress that we are making in Puerto Rico.
The American people are deeply concerned about the well-being of the people in both the territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and President Trump and I are going to continue to drive the resources forward until we bring both of these territories back stronger and more prosperous than ever before.
Q Mr. Vice President, I have to tell you, we’re hearing from many of our viewers here in Central Florida who, as you know, many have ties to Puerto Rico, they have family there. Some are from Puerto Rico — many of them who live here in Central Florida. They’re telling us exactly what you’re focusing on — you’re focusing on progress. So they say, why is the President starting to blame when so many people are so desperate right now, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think President Trump is staying focused exactly where the American people and particularly people with family and friends and heritage in Puerto Rico want the President to be focused, and that is on continuing to provide the resources and support to rebuild Puerto Rico.
Now is not the time for anyone to play politics; now is the time for us to focus on results. And the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are in our prayers, but everyone with family in the region, everyone that cares so deeply, as every American does, about the impact that this historic hurricane has had on the territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands should know that, at President Trump’s direction, the full resources of the federal government are being brought to bear.
We’re making steady progress, working closely with Governor Rossello and Governor Mapp, and I look forward to being in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands about this time next week. And I know the President and the First Lady are looking forward to being there Tuesday.
We are not going to be distracted from the work the President has directed, and that is to provide all of the federal resources to all of the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with the support of the American people and with the strong leadership of Governor Rossello in Puerto Rico and Governor Mapp in the Virgin Islands. We know the people of those territories will come back better and more prosperous than ever before.
Q Mr. Vice President, you spoke of getting results in Puerto Rico. I can tell you, I’ve talked to many Central Floridians with ties to Puerto Rico who tell us, over and over again, they want to help, they’re trying to help, but they tell us they cannot. They say there are not enough flights or boats going there. They just want to help. How do we get them and their supplies to Puerto Rico right now to deliver that help?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we know the ports are moving very vibrantly. Governor Rossello just told me a few moments ago that literally 2.3 million liters of waters, over a million meals just arrived at the port. There’s a tremendous amount of activity. Supplies are rolling in.
But there’s more work to be done, and what I would say to any of your viewers is — other than keeping the people of these two territories in your prayers, keeping all of our first responders in your prayers — you might just go to the website for the National Volunteer Organizations that are also on the ground coming alongside families and communities.
You can go to NVOAD.org to get all the information on National Volunteer Organizations that are working, that are on the ground, and at least provide the kind of financial support that will be necessary.
It’s going to be a long way back for a lot of these communities, but we’ve got not only federal resources, great state leadership in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but we’ve got so many wonderful, charitable organizations that are there helping families, helping communities rebuild.
So once again, for National Volunteer Organizations working in the region, it’s NVOAD.org, and people can find the right organization to help.
Q Yes, sir. We will put that website on our own website, ClickOrlando.com. But let me ask you, is there anything more specific we can tell the folks who are heading to the airports today, tomorrow, over the next few days with all kinds of supplies who are just trying to get there but the flights aren’t there for them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, Governor Rossello, working with General Buchanan on the ground, is going to continue to work to open up the airport for more flights. The logistics situation is improving dramatically now that we’ve opened up 11 major highways.
But rest assured that the heart of the people of Florida is shining through in that concern — the heart of the American people. We’re going to continue to work to open Puerto Rico up to all of those that want to provide sustenance and support and even to be present there.
But it’s going to be a while before Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are all the way back on their feet. But with President Trump’s leadership, we’re not going to rest or relent until these territories come back strong and prosperous, and we know they will.
Q Sir, you speak of logistics. As you know, there has been criticism — in some cases, much criticism, depending on who you ask. The retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who took over relief efforts, as you know, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, said yesterday — this is his words — “I don’t know what the hell is going on.” He called for a military surge in Puerto Rico; to bring in air traffic controllers; transportation specialists to clear those blocked roads, get supplies moving; deployment of troops, ships, and helicopters. Why isn’t the federal government doing this — his suggestion?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would suggest, with great respect to that retired general and respect for the work he’s done in the past, that the Department of Defense — 16 different Navy ships in the region, the USS Comfort will be there in a matter of days. I was able to inform Governor Rossello the USS Wasp will be arriving with 16 helicopter tomorrow. We have literally 10,000 federal officials on the ground, 4,500 National Guard have been there from early on, more are on the way.
I think as the American people look at what’s happening in Puerto Rico, they can be proud. They can proud of what our folks here at FEMA, and on the ground with FEMA, with our Coast Guard, our Marines, our first responders — and we’re going to continue to tell that story. But I have to tell you, at the end of the day, the American people are going to see the results of an extraordinary commitment of supplies and resources and compassion of the American people.
We’ve been there since the outset nine days ago; we’ll continue to work out hearts out until we bring Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands all the way back.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I can tell you that many of us here in Central Florida are committed to helping our friends and family in Puerto Rico. So we’re going to take that website that you gave us; we’re putting it on ClickOrlando.com right now.
Sir, it was a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us here tonight on News 6, getting results.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Erik, thank you very much.
END 11:52 A.M. EDT