THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 28, 2017
BY PRESS SECRETARY SARAH SANDERS,
NEC DIRECTOR GARY COHN,
AND HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR TOM BOSSERT
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:45 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I'd like to start by saying that the President and all of us at the White House were thrilled to see Congressman Scalise back on the House floor today. Our thoughts and prayers have been with him and his family for many weeks now, and we'll continue to root for him as he works toward a full recovery.
Today, the President is actively engaged in monitoring the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. This morning he received an update from FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Administrator Long has also briefed members of the Senate this morning and members of the House this afternoon.
The full weight of the United States government is engaged to ensure that food, water, healthcare, and other lifesaving resources are making it to the people in need.
At the request of the governor, who is doing a terrific job, the President waived the Jones Act. This will ensure that ample resources are making it to the island, but we will continue to focus on the challenge of distributing those resources.
The island setting presents logistical hurdles that do not exist on the mainland where trucks from around the country can converge on disaster areas. Ten thousand federal government relief workers are there, including 7,200 troops are now on the island and working tirelessly to get people what they need.
We have prioritized lifesaving resources to hospitals and can report that 44 of the island's 69 hospitals are now fully operational.
The Army Corps of Engineers is spearheading a massive mobilization to restore power, and this began with providing the diesel fuel necessary for sustainable emergency power generation. They're also working to restore long-term power generation and distribution around the island.
There's a long way to go, but we will not rest until everyone is safe and secure. Our message to the incredible people of Puerto Rico is this: The President is behind you. We all are -- the entire country. Your unbreakable spirit is an inspiration to us all. We are praying for you, we are working for you, and we will not let you down.
As you all know, the President traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana yesterday to roll out a framework for delivering tax relief to hardworking Americans. Our framework is based on four key ideas:
First, we will cut taxes for the everyday, hardworking Americans. Second, we will make the tax code simple, fair, and easy to understand. Third, we will cut taxes on American businesses to restore our competitive edge and create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. And finally, our framework encourages American companies to bring back the trillions and trillions of dollars in wealth that's parked overseas.
Robin Heldman owns a small printing and digital services business in Indianapolis. Robin and her husband, Roger, bought the business in 1991 and have since tripled in size. They both work full time in the shop and employ three additional people. As Robin describes it, her family is living the American Dream.
However, Robin feels small businesses in our country have been neglected and, in her words, "put on the backburner." But she's now excited about what the President and congressional leaders are proposing. She believes this tax cut will be a boom not just for her small business, but also for her customers. Robin relies on small businesses to take risk and make investments in marketing campaigns that require printing services. Robin is thrilled about the possibility of the tax code being simplified to allow the average taxpayer, such as herself, to save time and money, and that they can invest in their families and their business.
People like Robin are at the heart of the President's tax relief plan. To talk more about the tax relief plan, I'd like to bring up NEC Director Gary Cohn. And after Gary takes a few of your questions, we'll also have Tom Bossert up to answer some questions specific to the hurricane relief efforts, and then I'll come up for more general -- if you guys are insistent and have other topics you want to cover.
MR. COHN: Thanks, Sarah. I was going to make some opening remarks, but I think I won't because you covered a few of them.
A couple things I will say is: The President has made his goals very clear what he wants to achieve here with tax reform and cutting taxes in the United States. I think you know where we are in the process. The Group of Six has been working really well together. We're now in the hands of Congress. We want to go through a normal, regular process both in the Senate and the House, and we're working well with both tax drafting committees. And the committees will continue to work, and they're working really, really well and really quickly. And we're trying to drive tax reform as quickly as we can.
I think you know the basic premise behind that. I'm not going to take you through what we've talked about before. Again, a question we get asked a lot, so I'll say it right now: We have to make some basic assumptions right now on where we're going to end up with the brackets. But I'll tell you, based on our assumptions, a typical family earning $100,000 with two children that has been a standard deductor -- who uses the standard deduction, continues to use the standard deduction -- they can expect a tax cut of about $1,000. That's where we're headed, and that's where we're going to continue to be.
And with that, I think I'll open it up to questions and see what's on your mind. Go ahead.
Q Gary, the big criticism -- well, there's been some criticism that it's a giveaway to the rich. But the one criticism that seems to be relevant for your home state, Connecticut, California, and other states is that by eliminating the state and local deductions, there are certain people who will suffer double taxation. These are obviously itemizers. Is that a hard and fast red line with you, or would you be willing to give that up in congressional negotiations?
MR. COHN: Our plan is based on lowering rates and expanding the base. It's very simple if you think of what we're doing. You expand the base by getting rid of the loopholes -- the loopholes that the wealthy taxpayers have used to pay tax on less of their income.
So we have designed a plan where you're going to pay a lower rate, but you're going to pay it on more of your income. That is a basic core premise of our plan. And we're committed to it, and we're sticking with it.
Q But the criticism is that there are some people in the middle income, for whom this tax cut is supposed to be beneficial -- because they itemize -- who might be hit by that.
MR. COHN: So just to remind everyone in here: Twenty-five percent of American families today itemize. That's it. Seventy-five percent of American families do not itemize. So when you're talking about itemizers, you're talking about 25 percent of the population.
We also have many things that we're doing in the tax plan to help out American families. We're lowering tax rates. We're going from seven rates to three rates. We're expanding the zero rate up to $24,000 for that family. The first $24,000 of income they will pay zero on. We're lowering the 15 percent rate down to 12 percent. So the next rate will be 12 percent. We're doing things to help that family. We're expanding the parameters for childcare greatly. We're really going to move the upper-bound to who's eligible for childcare up to a substantial higher income level. So that family may be eligible for more and more credits. You have to look at this plan in its entirety.
The one thing I would beg you all to do is don't look at any one piece. Look at the plan in its entirety. That's how we're looking at tax reform. We're looking at it in its entirety.
Q A follow-up on what John was asking -- the standardized deduction versus itemized. There are people who think that if you dissuade people from itemizing, that you're going to suppress the real estate market; that people won't be interested in buying homes because they won't need to use itemized deductions. Can you address their concerns?
MR. COHN: First of all, we're protecting the mortgage interest deduction, and second of all, look, the home builders today came out in favor of our tax plan. The number-one reason why people buy homes is they're excited and optimistic about the economy. They have a job today. They feel confident they're going to have a job tomorrow, and their kids are going to get a job, and their spouse has a job. They feel like there is upward wage pressure. They feel like there's mobility in their job. And they feel good about the economy. That's when people go out and buy homes.
We've not been in that situation in America for the last decade. We have to get America back to a place where people feel excited and exuberant about the economy. When they do that, they'll go out and spend money; they'll buy homes. People don't buy homes because of the mortgage deduction. Again, 75 percent of families don't use itemized deductions.
Q How are you going to ensure that wealthy tax payers don't abuse the lower pass rate plan?
MR. COHN: So its a great question. We have spent an enormous amount of time on the anti-abuse language for passes. The last thing we want to see is wealthy individuals or wealthy groups or families move their tax rate down from the 35 percent rate to the 25 percent rate. We are spending time on that. The tax writers at both the House and the Senate are acutely aware of this issue. We've got language on it. You'll be seeing the language as we deliver more of the details.
Q Are there any specifics today though on how to do that?
MR. COHN: What the specific is, is we're acutely aware of that. Guys like myself should not be allowed to put their assets into a partnership and reduce our tax liability by 10 percent.
Q Just two things about one thing that you said this morning and something the President said yesterday. You said that you couldn't guarantee necessarily that no middle-class tax payers would actually pay more taxes under this plan. And because of the details that you were talking about just before that, it is a real possibility. Some of the calculations are that some lower-income people could see a very small cut of a few dollars or not more than that. So is it a red line for you and for the President that all middle-class tax payers see a cut under this plan?
And then secondly, the President said yesterday that this tax cut would not help him. In fact, he said in Indiana that it would be bad for him. But based on what we know -- what little that we know about his finances -- he'd get a big cut on the AMT; I think he'd save something like $31 million. On pass-through income he'd save $16.5 million. He'd obviously save a lot not paying the estate tax; his heirs would. So how can he say that this is not a plan that would help him?
MR. COHN: I think what the American people are concerned about is their financial positon. I think what they're concerned about is when they go to work every week, and they get their paycheck at the end of the week, how much do they get to keep? How much goes in their pockets versus how much goes to the government? How much do they get to spend versus how much do they send to the government?
If we allow a family to keep another $1,000 of their income, what does that mean? They can renovate their kitchen, they can buy a new car, they can take a family vacation, they can increase their lifestyle. That's what our tax plan has to do. Our tax plan is aimed to return more income back to hardworking Americans. That's what we're trying to do here.
Q Speaking of past years and the President saying that this tax plan wouldn't benefit him, don't you think it would be a good idea if the President proved that by releasing his tax returns?
MR. COHN: Like I said, what we're trying to do here and what we're all working on in the White House is to increase a lifestyle of American citizens -- our hardworking citizens that get up every morning and work as hard as any people in the world to try and keep more of their hard-earned income. That's what we're all about. That's what our tax plan is about. Our tax plan is trying to get the economy, to get the growth rate back to a normalized rate, above 3 percent.
Yes, we just had a quarter of 3.1 percent GDP. People didn't think we could get to 3.1 percent GDP for a while. We're at 3.1 [percent]. Can we go higher? What does 1 percent of GDP mean? One percent of GDP means $3 trillion. It more than pays for a tax cut. That's what we're trying to do with our tax plan.
Q If you can't guarantee that all middle-class Americans wont' see -- or some middle-class Americans won't see their taxes go up, does that contradict the central promise of this plan to help all middle-class Americans?
MR. COHN: Our tax plan is aimed at making sure we give middle-class Americans a tax cut. We are going to give middle-class Americans a tax cut. That is what we're spending all of our time on doing. And we've got lots of tools at our disposal to make sure that we do that, and that's what we're going to do.
Q Can you guarantee that all of them will see a tax cut?
MR. COHN: As I said this morning, and I'll say it again -- I could read my statement from this morning -- I liked it so much this morning, I'd to say it to you again: I cannot guarantee that. You could find me someone in the country that their taxes may not go down.
Remember, we have 50 states, we have counties, we have cities, we have long-term capital gains, we have short-term capital gains -- we have all different types of structures in the tax code. I guarantee you -- I'll guarantee you, you could find someone in this country -- maybe one person -- who their taxes may not go down.
Q Gary, can you walk us through the timeline for how you think the tax writing committees will get through this? And what confidence do you have that, given what's happened so far this year on Capitol Hill, that they will actually get this done? And secondly, why did you decide to stay the White House in the wake of Charlottesville?
MR. COHN: So, I'm very confident that the House and the Senate are working as quickly as they can. If you look at Chairman Brady right now and what he's doing in the House Ways and Means Committee, they are working. They came in on Sunday to start working on the tax plan, and they continue to work every day. Chairman Brady has said that they will get through the tax plan as quickly as they can. We would hope that we get through the House in October. We would hope to be in the Senate in November. And we would hope to have a bill done by this year.
Why am I here? I am here just for this reason. Think about the opportunity that I'm involved in with President Trump in being able to rewrite the tax code -- something that hasn't been done for 31 years. The amount of impact that we can have on the U.S. economy and U.S. citizens and changing the forward outlook of the United States -- this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I would never miss this.
Q Gary, one follow on that, and then my question, which was: Does that mean when you're done with tax reform, that you will no longer be at the White House? Did you mean to imply that?
MR. COHN: There are many more once-in-a-lifetime opportunities at the White House. (Laughter.)
Q We'd love to hear what would make you stay.
On the child tax credit, which we have heard Ivanka Trump talk about, campaign on, can you give us any kind of description as to what that would look like? I know it's still being written, but what is the goal here? Will it be refundable? What are some of the broad outlines?
MR. COHN: I think we said in our outline yesterday, if you read it, the existing childcare credit will stay refundable. The additional money that will be put into the credit will be nonrefundable. We want to encourage people to work. We want to have people have taxable income to take the credit against. The size of it, we're still working out.
Q But you have a range in mind.
MR. COHN: We have a range in mind, yes.
Q Can you give any sense of that?
MR. COHN: We're continuing to work on that range. Again, we are working on delivering a large middle-income tax cut to American workers, one that they rightfully deserve.
Let me go back to the back of the room.
Q Thank you. The Committee for a Responsible [Federal] Budget said that the plan will add $2.2 trillion to the deficit. Are they wrong?
MR. COHN: We think they're wrong. We think they're wrong because the way they score. But let's not argue if they're right or wrong. Let's not argue that. We firmly believe that this tax plan will have a dramatic impact on economic growth. We know that 1 percent change in GDP will add $3 trillion back. So if they're right, we're only going to pay down $800 billion dollars to the deficit. I'll live with $800 billion paid.
Q Thank you, Gary. Appreciate the opportunity. On the corporate side, your critics say that on the repatriation of overseas assets, that history would show that companies don't always use those assets, when they're repatriated, to invest in manufacturing and jobs and the things that you guys are talking about. They do share buybacks and other financial engineering. How can you guarantee that that won't happen this time?
MR. COHN: So, look, we've heard that numerous times. If that's our worst-case scenario -- that companies repatriate their money and they use it for share buybacks and dividends -- what happens? They buy back shares, they issue dividends. They pay the repatriation tax, we get another 20 percent tax on capital gains or dividends, and then the people that get that money back do what? They reinvest it back in the economy in new investments, in new capital.
We're putting some very enticing rules into the system that will entice people to invest capital for the next five years. We're giving people a five-year write-off that they can instantly expense. So, look, if that happens, that's fine. We know that that money will get invested right back in the economy and drive jobs, drive economic growth, drive wages, and drive prosperity.
Right over here.
Q Gary, you've been asked a question twice and you didn't answer. I'd like to get you to answer this -- because I get your messaging on the middle class; you've made that very clear. But this tax plan, as it stands now, appears that it will benefit the President and his family. Why not just be candid about that?
MR. COHN: Look, I told you it will benefit the middle class. I think that's what American --
Q What about the wealthy folks, is what I'm asking.
MR. COHN: American taxpayers care about what they take home. They care about what they have to spend. That's what they care about. That's what I care about. I care about what I pay in taxes. I bet you, you care about what you pay in taxes.
Q (Inaudible) what the President's message is here too, and he's saying he won't benefit, yet it appears as though the way this is put together, he actually will. And it gets to the idea of wealthy Americans around this country, which people do care about. So can you just speak to that?
MR. COHN: So let me take you through the components that you're all obsessed on for a minute, and Sarah is going to yell at me because I'm taking too long here.
So you all talk about the death tax and that being a great benefit. The two biggest drivers for repeal of the death tax are the NFIB and the Farm Bureau. That's small businesses and farms. Those are the two organizations that spend the most time lobbying on the repeal of the death tax. Death tax has the biggest effect on them -- small businesses and farms.
Wealthy Americans do a lot of estate planning. They can use trust. They can use all types of things that are legal within the tax code to make sure they dont pay death tax.
On the AMT, I'm not going to get into deep calculations on AMT, but at a broad-brush level, when you do the AMT, once you get rid of the deductions of state and local taxes, that's the biggest add-back in AMT. AMT becomes irrelevant once you get rid of the deduction of state and local taxes.
So all the things that you're trying to pull at, you're not looking at the plan in its entirety. They don't make sense once we redo the plan and once we simplify.
Q Gary, just as a follow-up question on that. In your ultimate appearance of this group, you said that -- I cited to you the worry of groups such as Jim Martin and the 60 Plus seniors association -- that you are going to drag out repeal of the death tax; that it wouldnt be immediate. And you said at the time it was immediate. Is that final? Is it going to be an immediate repeal and go off the books as soon as the new tax reform package is passed?
MR. COHN: In our outline, it's immediate.
Q It's immediate?
MR. COHN: It's immediate, yes.
Q And the same with the alternative minimum tax?
MR. COHN: It's immediate. Everything is immediate. The only thing that phases out is the five-year expensing -- is a five-year expensing.
MS. SANDERS: Last one, guys.
Q Speaking of small businesses, let's start negotiating, because yesterday Senator Schumer said that Democrats may be willing to work some kind of small business tax relief into whatever comes out of all this. Where do you start negotiating on that? What offer do you want to make, perhaps, to the Democrats?
MR. COHN: Our opening offer and our final offer are on the table. We are happy to start at 25 and we're happy to go lower; and we're happy to start at 20 on corporate and go lower. So there's our opening offer. If he wants to counter with something lower, we're very negotiable.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Gary. Now, to try to be respectful of you all's time, we've also got Tom Bossert that will come up and talk about the hurricane relief efforts and take questions specific to that. And then I'll come up after that.
MR. BOSSERT: Thanks, Sarah. Good afternoon. As you know, President Trump has put people first and paperwork second. He's had us call out and pull out all the stops, and put out as much federal relief into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as we can muster. And we've been ongoing in our efforts to accomplish that and meet his objectives over the last eight days.
And I'm here to take some questions. I know you've heard some reporting from Sarah, so if I could, I'll just jump right in.
Q If I can ask you -- first of all, thanks for being here. Specifically on the Jones Act, which has been the focus of a lot of attention in the course of the last 24 to 72 hours right now, critics say the White House should have moved more quickly in waiving the Jones Act, lawmakers among them. Why is that an unfounded complaint?
MR. BOSSERT: Okay, so it is an unfounded complaint and here's why: The Jones Act, real briefly stated, is a rule that favors flag vessels -- U.S. flag vessels. If there are not enough U.S. flag vessels -- the capacity, in other words -- to meet the need, then we waive the Jones Act. In this particular case, we had enough capacity of U.S. flag vessels to take more than, or to exceed the requirement and need of diesel fuel and other commodities into Puerto Rico.
What happened is, I think almost 17 or 18 days' worth of now what you're seeing -- backlogged diesel fuel need in the island. But it was a little bit misunderstood and misreported that we had a capacity problem and had to waive the Jones Act. Not the case. The idea here is that we had provided as many commodities as were necessary to the island. The challenge became, then, land-based distribution. That remains the challenge; that remains the priority today.
However, last night, Governor Rossell called me a little after eight o'clock and said, at this point, to ensure that the additional needs are met as we move forward, it might be a good idea to proactively make sure that we pull out all the stops just in case that capacity problem ran into the requirement problem. I talked to the President; he thought that was absolutely the right thing to do, and waived it right away.
So that was not too late. It was not even too early. It was just the right thing to do proactively.
Q So to be very clear, through this point, then obviously distribution is one of the biggest challenges. You talked about 44 of 69 hospitals now being up and running as necessary to bring those people whose lives are at risk. What percentage of the country would you say you really havent had a chance to even explore to see how they've been impacted by this?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, so it's hard to answer the percentage of the country, so I'll answer it this way: Through aerial surveillance we've seen the entirety of Puerto Rico. Some of the southwest and southeast sections of the island have had a little bit more sparse on-foot exploration. But it's the interior of the island that's presenting the biggest problem for us right now. The mountainous interior is where we're dedicating our efforts to try to get in with rotary wing support. The margins, so to speak, are now open to airports and seaports, so that's where we're freeing up some of that delivery.
But again, back to the Jones Act question, we had -- up until the waiver last night -- enough capacity in U.S. flag vessels to get all the commodities necessary into the island. We just then ran into the priority challenge of distributing land-based commodities into the people, and that's -- if I can pivot before I take the next question, that's a challenge or a function of two problems:
First, the capacity of the locals in the state were diminished because those people are victims, as well, that work for the state and work for the local authorities. And then, secondly, the debris and down power lines had to be pushed out of the way. And so we've got the resources there to do that now, but that's the challenge remaining.
The central interior is going to be reviewed and looked at very carefully over the next 24, 48 hours to make sure we're getting the needs of the people met.
Q A quick follow on John, if I could. Had Governor Rossell, Tom, not requested -- protectively -- a waiver in the Jones Act, would you have seen a compelling reason to initiate a waiver?
MR. BOSSERT: I wouldn't have, and I wasn't recommending to the President that he waive the Jones Act at the time until I got the governor's request. And it may be a historical note of relevance: Sometimes we'll see the carriers request the waiver, right? So you'll have foreign flag vessels or U.S. flag vessels or carrier companies call us and say, "Please waive it because there's an issue." We didn't get, to my knowledge, any carrier requests.
But once the governor calls and says, "Proactively, as I see out into the future, on the horizon" -- then I think that we should listen to him. And the President completely agreed.
Q Was this just all overhyped, in simple terms?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, perhaps misunderstood. I think there's also some critics that believe that it was a price issue, and for those, I can't answer it. I don't know how the markets price these things. But I can tell you is already bought and paid for by the U.S. taxpayer in a humanitarian effort, and I think it's an absolutely wise investment to save lives, whether they're U.S. citizens or not.
In this particular case, we've got U.S. Virgin Island citizens, Puerto Rican citizens -- all American citizens. I think that's the right investment to make. Whether it could have changed the price point, I don't know. There was an op-ed piece on that.
But capacity is the issue. Lifesaving requirements -- that's the need. And we had that capacity met.
Q Tom, your need is immediate, and with all the challenges that are coming, what are the conversations about with airdrops -- just airdropping in certain areas? Because people are talking about running out of water, running out of food like in hours or minutes. What's happening with that conversation? And also, once again, an issue of housing. We're hearing about ships -- cruise ships. What else is going on with this?
MR. BOSSERT: So there's a number of things happening. With respect to the distribution of commodities, that is the biggest challenge right now. But the restoration of power is also a big challenge, and I'll tell you why. Energy here -- electric power -- is supplying the hospitals that are providing medical care to the wounded and those that brought medical conditions and had chelation needs and other needs.
So there's kind of a dual priority going on in terms of power restoration, emergency power, and then blocking, clearing, pushing out of the way all the roads to open them up so we can get commodities delivered. There's still a shortfall there, though, and that is drivers for all those trucks. So we are pushing personnel in to augment state and local authorities to continue to push those commodities.
What you saw today, though, I think was some reporting and some loop footage of some trucks sitting on ports and docks. We're moving those trucks quickly. We're also prioritizing what needs to come off first so that we can get generators --
Q Wouldn't airdrops circumvent all of that having to rebuild infrastructure and move things away?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah. At this point, if airdrops are under consideration, I'm not aware of it. But I would promote it if it's a faster way to get food and water to people who are in need. We now have a one-star general, General Kim, in place, who's in charge of all ground force operations to make sure there's one person in charge of marshaling all those efforts. And if he recommends airdrop, then I think we airdrop.
Q Tom, I've got a text here from a volunteer who has boots on the ground, and he says that they need helicopters to evacuate people from remote areas of the island. And he says there are people burying their family members in front yards, communication is badly needed, and they look at apocalyptic conditions between 48 and 72 hours. There's a little bit of disconnect from what I'm hearing here and what they're telling me there. Can you explain the difference?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, no, there's no disconnect. If that's accurate, then it needs to be addressed and remediated immediately. So what I want to do here is be careful not to micromanage it from here. That's the mistake you've seen in the past. I believe -- I'm confident anyway -- that we've got enough resources marshaled and deployed forward to make those decisions under the right command and leadership structure.
What we've done, and as I've explained in the past, is we've had to augment and change our business model in the field. We did that last Thursday in earnest; you saw the effects of it over the weekend. But what we did is we had to augment the local and state authorities, not just at the top, but all the way out through and to the lower levels. So now there are federal officials that are identifying needs and requirements, requesting them of the state level, augmenting the state level to validate those requirements, and then from the federal side, providing them.
So we are in every stage of the identification, validation, and provision of requirements and the delivery of them to people in need. And a couple of things here: First, people seeing 24- and 48-hour horizon problems where they're saying, I don't see enough food and water coming, it's my sincere belief that that food and water is going to get to them before that deadline arises and that we're going to save their lives. I have no doubt in it. We've got over 10,000 people there now, and there's more on their way, including a lot of aerial support, USS Comfort.
I'm going to read the numbers here for you. There's 12 Coast Guard cutters, three United States Navy ships, one DOT Maritime Administration vessel, six commercial ships with supplies in route -- this was as of 5:00 a.m., so there's more since -- seven additional ships to house responders, and we've got commodities distribution now exceeding millions. So 1.3 million meals, 2.7 million liters -- that type of thing -- of water.
So that's moving in today, and you're seeing the distribution problem unclogged. Now, if there's somebody burying somebody in their front yard, that's an absolutely terrible story. What I don't want to do though is project it as the norm, and I think there's a careful distinction here.
Q What is the norm?
MR. BOSSERT: Right now we've seen 16 fatalities confirmed from the state authorities. No fatality is acceptable. If that number increases significantly, that will be a devastating blow. We are going everything we can to prevent that. The loss of life from the storm is one thing; loss of life that's preventable is another. And that's why we're trying to marshal our resources.
Q Senator Rubio, who just got back from the island, says there are significant logistical concerns with the administration's response. He says there's no clear command, control, and communication between local and federal agencies. And he says this requires a response led by DOD. Is that option on the table here?
MR. BOSSERT: Sure. It's already been undertaken. So I was with the senator briefly on Monday, in Puerto Rico, and I think what he's identifying there is something that we already had in place -- or a solution for. So he's identifying a traditional problem between municipal and state government authorities.
Normally, FEMA and the federal government would provide aid to the governor, to the state, and then they would work it out with the local authorities. What we've identified here as of last Thursday, and you saw it implemented over the weekend, was a lack of capacity coupled with this insular several hundred-mile away, divided by an ocean island problem. And so what we've done is provided federal authorities -- largely guys in green, right -- Title X and Title XXXII forces -- but also FEMA emergency managers, to stand next to each of those municipality leaders, whether they're mayors or local authority figures, like the water authority or electric authority leaders. And they're being augmented by federal forces.
So we've addressed those challenges in communicating between local and state authorities by augmenting them with federal staff. That's something that wasn't necessarily apparent to the senator as he got there. He identified a problem, but it was a problem already being fixed. And it's one that he probably wasn't able to see at the municipal level for two reasons. One, he didn't get out there to them. Neither of us could make it out to the municipal levels when we visited on Monday. And two, there was a communications problem of grave import that persists to this day, and that communications problem is tied to the electric power restoration problem.
If I could, before I take the next question, let me explain why and how the power restoration process is unfolding.
What we decided to do is take the action of putting the United States Army Corps of Engineers in charge of power restoration on the island. So to your question about whether the military is in charge, it depends on the mission and function. They're in charge of a lot, but not everything. The people of Puerto Rico are strong, competent, and where they're not diminished in capacity, they're in charge. And that's the best way to handle things. But where they're not able, and where they have diminished capacity, we're taking extreme steps.
So a direct federal assistance order was given, a mission assignment was given. I've heard others on TV quibble whether its a mission or not. Let me make it clear: General Semonite from the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been given a mission to restore power on Puerto Rico, writ large, full stop. He has some priorities.
His priorities are temporary power generation right now. That's the big diesel-run generators that are supporting the hospitals and other lifesaving capabilities. Two, permanent generation. He's going to restore the damaged power generation capacity on the south of the island. Three, transmission. Those are the big lines that transmit power to and from. And then, fourthly, distribution. That's the last mile -- capillaries hook up to the houses and that type of power generation.
So those are his priorities, and I'm pretty certain that the Puerto Rican people are going to see the results of a dedicated Army Corps of Engineers mission.
Q If airdrops would help, why are those not happening? Is that a military issue? Is that a problem with them not stepping up?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, it's my belief that right now both the state government and most of the municipalities involved have identified the fastest route is available to them being ground based. If that's not the case, then I'm confident -- but I want to make sure that I don't step in between something that I could be far removed from. If the ground force commander down there has identified an airdrop mission as faster and more productive, then I endorse it from here. I certainly wouldn't question his judgment.
But it was my reporting and understanding earlier today that they identified the fastest delivery methodology to be through ground-based means by clearing first and delivering second, and that we needed drivers and we're augmenting them, and they needed security forces, and we've applied those. There's a security force plan now laid down for each of the drivers so that they can feel safe.
Q Tom, several aid flights have gotten out of South Florida and managed to get to the island and deliver food and water without having logistical problems. There's severe criticism coming from South Florida now, saying that there's mismanagement coming all the way from the President. How do you respond to that?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, I'm not certain who you're talking about or who's criticizing us. There's plenty of criticism to go around, but I'm pretty confident --
Q The mayor (inaudible) managed to get an aid flight into the island and get it unloaded. And he says the problems that you're having logistically are of your own making from not taking action sooner and bringing in the military sooner.
MR. BOSSERT: Well, first, I thank the mayor for providing aid. Second, the mayor is just dead wrong in this case, and I would challenge him to go down and get a better understanding first before rendering that verdict on what we've done, what we had been doing, and how blown away you're going to be when you see the full totality of the picture. So I'm certain that the mayor has had some positive experiences. I wouldn't be critical of him personally. But he's probably -- just like with the Jones Act criticism that he rendered -- just not yet informed on the facts.
So thanks for that question.
Q How is he able to get supplies through? And why is it that there are 10,000 containers waiting at the port of San Juan?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, to my point earlier, we're getting a lot of supplies through; it's just perhaps some misreporting that misunderstands that fact.
Q The President has referenced some of the debt and economic problems that Puerto Rico has been struggling with for some time here. When you were talking about the lack of capacity, municipal and state level -- I mean, are you faulting local officials for a lack of preparedness?
MR. BOSSERT: No, absolutely -- no. Let me be clear, when I say capacity, I'm talking about the capacity problem of people being victims that would otherwise be the first responders, repairers, and managers of the municipal government functions. So what we're doing is trying to restore baseli