Georgia Operations Center for the Red Cross
4:37 P.M. EDT
GOVERNOR DEAL: Mr. President and First Lady, we are honored to have you both here in Georgia, and you’re going to get a pretty good view, I think, of what the damage and the assessments that have taken place in our state.
We are fortunate that we did not get hit, in some respects, as nearly as hard as Florida did, but we had extensive damage, especially as it relates to our agricultural community. And you’re going to have an opportunity to meet with some of those.
I want to commend you for your Secretaries. And we’re, of course, pleased to have our own Secretary as a member of your Cabinet, former Governor Sonny Perdue. You know, between the two of us, we have been the chief executives in the state of Georgia for the last 16 years.
THE PRESIDENT: Right. It’s true.
GOVERNOR DEAL: We are very pleased to have him, but we’re also pleased to have so many contacts that have been made by the members of your Cabinet. They’ve done an exceptional job.
And, of course, we are glad to have your FEMA Director here, Brock Long. He and I have talked multiple times, and I have appreciated his involvement and concern about our state. And his people are doing a great job working with our locals. And that’s an important thing, as you all know.
I’m going to turn it over to the Administrator right now, for his comments.
ADMINISTRATOR LONG: Thank you, Governor. I really appreciate the partnership. Not only has the Governor been a strong leader, but also Homer Bryson, the Director of Georgia Emergency Management, behind you.
This is all about partnership. Unfortunately, Georgia is no stranger to hurricanes. This is where I started my career. I married a Georgia girl, by the way, too. But the bottom line is, is there was a significant hit coming into southwest Georgia. Category 2 winds. As you can see, the swath is behind us, Mr. President, here. And not only do you see similar damage where trees are down on homes, and there was a tremendous hit to the communications and power infrastructure, but you’re going to see generational losses to the agriculture industry as well. The timing of the storm is pretty tough, as Secretary Perdue would tell you.
But our focus is life sustainment, trying to do everything that we can to get access to all the areas to help get the infrastructure — the private sector partners and our power partners that are represented here with Georgia Power — trying to get them access to be able to fix the infrastructure to get the power back on. I believe it’s up to about 90 percent back on where we are.
BOWERS: Sure is.
ADMINISTRATOR LONG: But we still have a ways to go. Cell communications is coming back online too. But now it’s about taking care of people, sir, and making sure that we get them out of shelters and into longer-term housing for those that have lost their homes. Our staff is pushing forward in the field with disaster survivors. And we’ll continue to register. We need people to register with 1-800-621-FEMA, or DisasterAssistance.gov in Georgia.
So I’ll turn it back over to you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Brock. I want to just commend you on the job you’re doing. We just left Florida, and they are so thrilled with what’s happened with our people, our talent. But they’re not thrilled about this hurricane, because this was brutal. They haven’t seen anything like it. And possibly, there’s hasn’t been anything like it. The winds are almost 200 miles an hour. Just wiped houses away. The foundations — everything gone. So we saw some areas that were hard to believe, actually. Actually hard to believe.
But the people are incredible in Florida, in Georgia, in Alabama. And, you know, North Carolina and South Carolina went through a lot two weeks ago, and they got a little bit of the remnants of this one too, on top of it. So, incredible people.
But I want to thank FEMA. First responders, the law enforcement has been so incredible. Secretary Nielsen, you worked so hard. I don’t think — have you gone to sleep in the last two weeks? I don’t think so. (Laughter.) But your whole team has been fantastic. And, Governor, I’d like to thank you on behalf of the country. What a job you’ve done in Georgia. And I have to say Rick Scott in Florida, likewise. The two of you have really done something.
And I just spoke to the great Governor of Alabama, and she is in there — she is in there fighting and also doing. We have terrific people running these states. And I want to thank you very much — really, very much.
And, Brock, please say compliments to everybody, from myself, the First Lady, Secretary Perdue — who used to be the Governor of Georgia, as we said. But you have been very special. You know more about agriculture than any human being that I’ve ever spoken to. (Laughter.) And he doesn’t like it when the hurricanes wipe out the crops. They just wiped them out. That doesn’t make you feel too good; we were talking about it. He doesn’t like to see that. But Sonny Perdue has been an incredible Secretary of Agriculture.
And, Sonny, how about saying a little bit?
SECRETARY PERDUE: I want to reiterate what Governor Deal said, President. Your administration is making a reputation for being more connected to your state and local partners than any other administration I can ever remember. Commissioner Black, Governor, I’ve experienced this well — all the way from the local community leaders to state legislators to governors, the people you’ve appointed in your office are reaching out here, making people feel like we have truly one government. And that’s — and that is wonderful to be a part of that. And I want to thank you for allowing us to do that. Because it makes a difference.
When people undergo situations like this — not even disasters, they’re connected — but when they go through like this, they feel like they’ve got a lifeline to FEMA, to Secretary Nielsen, to any of your administration, and to you particularly. And we want to say — I’m glad to be a part of that. And we — Commissioner Black and I toured some of the ag area yesterday. There are tremendous losses, but our farmers are resilient. We’re going to help them, you’re going to help them, and they’ll be okay.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me ask you this, Sonny and Commissioner: When Brock says “generational” damage, I don’t like the sound of “generational” damage. What does that mean? And how long does that take to get back?
SECRETARY PERDUE: As we were talking, coming up, on pecan trees particularly, these trees typically start bearing about seven years after they’re planted. And then they don’t reach economic profitability until about 10 years. So that’s what we’re talking about. That’s half a generation.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a long time.
SECRETARY PERDUE: These farmers — many percentages of pecan trees across the country, across the state down in southwest Georgia, were toppled. And those that weren’t toppled, the nuts have blown off. So they were looking for bumper crop, the cotton, and pecans, and peanuts. And the devastation there is heartbreaking to hear and to (inaudible). And you’ll talk to some farmers later today.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Very good.
COMMISSIONER BLACK: Mr. President, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER BLACK: God bless you. And thank you for being here. We lead the nation in peanut production, pecan production, forest product production. We’re leaders in vegetable. So that’s production. Today we’re leading in destruction, unfortunately. We will lead in rebuilding.
THE PRESIDENT: No doubt about it.
COMMISSIONER BLACK: And it’s — I had numbers from the intergovernmental relations from the White House. I had two telephone calls while the wind was still blowing. And I’ve had good fortune in the last year and a half or so to be in and out in places where folks who do the job I do never had the opportunity. The Governor — the Secretary used to say with Agriculture — when he was the governor, and when Governor Deal — is that we get to come into the front door. Oftentimes, it’s been the backdoor. And it’s certainly been — it’s not been that way, and we’re grateful to you.
And I promise you, we’re going to continue to work. We do have an outstanding group of people for you to visit personally with this afternoon.
THE PRESIDENT: I look forward to that. I look forward to seeing some of the farmers. They’re great people. And we will do it. And that is true: Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer, and a nice man. He is a nice man. Met him on numerous occasions. And if you think about it, that’s what he did, right? Peanuts. So it’s great.
Do you have any questions, please?
ADMINISTRATOR LONG: Mr. President, also the American Red Cross, a huge partner as well.
THE PRESIDENT: Good job. I heard — good job.
ADMINISTRATOR LONG: You know, it takes a whole community to overcome these types of disasters, and so it’s not only neighbor helping neighbor all the way to federal government. But if it wasn’t for the volunteer organizations active in disaster, these guys do a whole lot to help shelter — temporary shelter people. And that’s what’s going on here.
MEWBORN: And we couldn’t do it without you, so thank you. We have great partnership.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And power is coming back pretty quickly, right?
BOWERS: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not surprised. I know your company well. I’m not surprised.
Any questions, please?
Q Mr. President, you just left Florida. Are you concerned that there is a possibility that up to 17 F-22 stealth bombers were damaged at Tyndall Air Force Base? Because they weren’t taken —
THE PRESIDENT: No, I’m not hearing that. They were under repair. Many of the aircraft were flown out prior to the hurricane, but some of them can’t because the engines are taken out and they’re doing a lot of heavy repairing work. We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage. Not nearly as bad as we first heard.
Q Are you concerned about how much that might cost, though?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it. In fact, my first question is, “Why didn’t they take them out?” That’s because they were fixing.
You know, this hurricane happened very quickly. In fact, it was a storm. Nobody thought it was a big deal, and then all of a sudden, it started and then became a Category 4. It happened very quickly.
No, we think it’s much better than we originally thought, but there was some damage, no question about it. And the F-22 is one of my all-time favorite planes. To me, it’s the most beautiful fighter jet in the world, and one of the best.
Q Are you going to ask Congress for supplementary funding —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — to respond to these hurricanes?
THE PRESIDENT: The governors know that we’re there for them. I’ve spoken with Rick Scott in Florida. Governor, you know that. We’re right with you. And we’ll be helping Alabama, we’ll be helping all of the — as we have been with North Carolina and South Carolina. So, we’re there.
Q Are you worried at all about the deficit — the new numbers that just came out?
THE PRESIDENT: I always worry about the deficit. But what are you going to do? You have a hurricane. I have to take care of the people. So the deficit is always a problem for me, but we take care of our people, most importantly.
Q Is there a preliminary estimate on how much it’s going to cost to help all these people?
THE PRESIDENT: I think, Governor, did you want to make a comment on that? Do you have any ideas yet? It’ very early.
GOVERNOR DEAL: Mr. President, it’s still too early, unless Brock has some more.
ADMINISTRATOR LONG: So, it will take some time. We do what we call preliminary damage assessments and to get more details, but the true cost won’t be revealed for quite some time.
Q Mr. President, when you ran for President, did you ever imagine you would spend this much time thinking about the weather?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the weather has been a factor. And yet, they say the worst hurricanes were 50 years ago, if you can believe it. In fact, the one that they say was worse — so two or three worse — one was in 1890s, and one was exactly 50 years ago. The winds were 200 miles an hour. So who knows? But that’s what the — that’s what the numbers are. We are —
Q You addressed climate change —
THE PRESIDENT: I did. I addressed it last night on “60 Minutes.”
Q Is there nothing about the number of storms that come in that make you think, “Gee, something is changing”?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have a big number. And, you know, for a long period of time, we had very few. I have a home in Palm Beach, Florida; I’m there a lot. And frankly, we had years where we had none, and then over the last couple of years we had more. And hopefully, we’ll go back to many years where we have none. But we have been hit by the weather, there’s no question about it.
But it is interesting that the worst of all time, 1890 — and, as you know, 50 years ago was the last really great one. That was supposed to be worse. I don’t know if it gets worse. I’ve never seen anything where houses were ripped off with the foundations. You see, the foundations are actually taken out. So it’s really — it’s pretty amazing. But we have to get it taken care of, most importantly.
Q Last night, in your comments about climate change, you said that there is something there. And previously, in the past, you’ve called it a hoax. What changed your mind? Was it because it was like this?
THE PRESIDENT: No, there’s something there. There’s no question. There is something there — manmade or not. I mean, there’s something there. And it’s going to go, and it’s going to go back and forth. But there is something there.
But again, 50 years ago, it was brutal. The 1890s were brutal. You have different times. And the main thing is we have to make sure things get brought back to perfect condition. That’s what we’re doing.
We have tremendous support from the farmers. The farmers really got hurt, especially in Georgia. I mean, Florida was housing and other things. And over here, your farmers we really — those crops were really uprooted. But we’re going to get it taken care of.
Q Mr. President, the latest research from NOAA says that climate change will make the strongest hurricanes even stronger. Do you agree with that assessment?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll have to look at it. I haven’t seen that. But I would certainly have to look at it.
Q When you see impacts like this to the U.S., does it affect at all your decision in renegotiating the Paris Climate Accord?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I want crystal clean water. I want the cleanest air on the planet — which, by the way, now we have. It’s gotten better since last year — even better. And I’m very, very tough on that.
So when you talk about environmental, I am truly an environmentalist. A lot people smile when they hear that. But I have the cleanest air, and I’m going to have the cleanest air. But that doesn’t mean we have to put every one of our businesses out of business. That doesn’t mean that we can’t compete or we’re not allowed to compete with other nations that aren’t doing what we’re doing.
And we’re competing very well. Our nation is the hottest nation economically on the planet, by far, even though we’re very big. I mean, we’re up $10.7 [trillion] — $11.7 trillion, since I got elected. Nobody thought that would be possible. And other nations — as an example, China — not that I wish this, but they’re down many trillions of dollars. So we’re doing really well, and I want to keep it that way.
Q Sir, can I ask you an off-topic question? There’s been reports that the Saudis might say that Khashoggi was killed during an unauthorized interrogation. Does that sound (inaudible)?
THE PRESIDENT: I just saw that, Steve. I just don’t know. I’m going to have to see what they say. And we’re working very closely with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey, and they are working together to figure out what happened. And they want to know what happened, also.
So a lot of people are working on it, Steve. A lot of people. And we’ll be bound very much by that. We’ll see.
I heard that report but nobody knows if it’s an official report. So far, it’s just the rumor — the rumor of a report coming out.
Q What instructions did you give Pompeo — Secretary Pompeo — when he was sent over today?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m really sending him just to find out really, firsthand, what happened, what they know, what’s going on. He may go to Turkey; he may not.
He may meet with all of them together, but we want to find out what happened. And he’s got instructions to find out what happened. We’re talking about the whole the situation with Saudi Arabia that you’ve been reading about, I’m sure, very much. But it’s a terrible situation, there’s no question about it. I don’t like it one bit.
Q Has your thinking changed about Secretary Mnuchin going to the conference?
THE PRESIDENT: He’s going to make that decision. We’re going to see who’s going. He’s got a while to go. You know, it’s Friday. He has to know by the end of Friday. And we’ll make that decision. We haven’t made a decision about going yet. But he’s going to make that decision sometime prior to Friday.
Q Since we already went off topic, Mr. President, Senator Warren released some of her DNA results that show a strong likelihood that she does have Native American roots.
THE PRESIDENT: How much? One one-thousandth? (Laughter.)
Q Do you owe her an apology? Or what about the money that —
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t. Absolutely. Do I owe her? She owes the country an apology.
What’s her percentage? One one-thousandth?
Q I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me.
THE PRESIDENT: When you have the percentage, tell me what the percentage is.
Q What about the money that you told her you would donate?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean if she gets the nomination, in a debate, where I was going to have her tested? I’ll only do it if I can test her personally. Okay? That will not be something I enjoy doing either.
Okay, what else?
Q Mr. President, over the weekend, you signaled that you’re considering reviving the child separation policy. Have you discussed this with —
THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t consider anything. I’m considering changing the immigration laws, and I’ve been doing it for a while. Because we have the worst — as the Governor can tell you, as everybody can tell you, as Sonny can tell you from your time as governor — we have the worst immigration laws and dumbest immigration laws in the history of the world. Okay? There is no country in the world that has such stupid laws as we do.
Somebody comes into our country, they put one foot on our land, and we have to bring them through a long court process. Or we have catch and release, which is even worse. We catch them, Commissioner — we catch them, we find out they’re a criminal, we write them up, and then we release them and we tell them to come back in three or four years for a court case, and they never show up.
We have the dumbest laws in history, and it’s because of the Democrats. Because they want to have these laws that way. And it is so crazy, and we are getting them changed one by one. And we are very tough on the border, and we have to be very tough on the border.
So we’re looking at all immigration laws. They are a disaster. They’re a laughingstock all over the world. And this country will never be a laughingstock when I’m running it. We’ve made a lot of progress, too.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.
4:55 P.M. EDT