Miami, FL – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared on CNN today to discuss the logistical struggles of distributing aid to American citizens in Puerto Rico after the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. He also commented on the tragic passing of the 12th patient from a single nursing home in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
A downloadable broadcast quality version of the interview is available for TV stations here. Key excerpts of Rubio’s remarks are transcribed below.
KATE BOLDUAN: You heard me just talking to General Keen right there, he’s a man who knows about disaster response. He says what he's seen so far hasn't been sufficient. What have you seen? What are you thinking right now?
RUBIO: So I think we’re analyzing this and I think some of the statements-- if you take all the interviews that preceded me together, it gives you insight into exactly what the problem is here. This is not an issue that people don't care. It’s not an issue that we're not doing enough in that sense, because this storm is responded to the way we respond to storms and the traditional model is, there's a storm, and the local governments and the state governments are the first line of defense, and if they need something the federal government fills in those unmet needs. That model isn't working here and the reason why it doesn't work here is not because the government of Puerto Rico or the governor is doing a bad job, it's because the government itself has been a victim of the hurricane. Not just the people, but the government itself is a victim of the hurricane. And so they've tried to identify that problem and move on it and I just think they need to do more of that. So I know they're doing more, right, they're embedding two Marines with every local official with temporary communications. They started with the big municipalities and moving down. But at its core right now, the challenge here in the immediate term is the logistical challenge. There is aid in Puerto Rico, there is aid sitting at the port, there is aid coming in and more aid to come that can't be allowed in because there's no room for it because the old aid is still there. They have got to get that aid moving to the right places. To do that, you need to restore roads, a bare minimum of power, you need a bare minimum of communications, you need a logistical change. The government of Puerto Rico, it's not that they're not trying hard and it’s not that they don't want to do it and it’s not that we don't have sufficient assets, we may not, but that's not the cause of it. The logistics change is broken and only the U.S. military can stand it up. And it's truly my hope that at some point here in the next few hours that the generals that are down there now, someone with three stars, or two stars or three stars on their shoulder, will be able to be the ultimate decisionmaker until we get basic logistics. I'm not talking about a military takeover of the Puerto Rican government. I'm talking about logistics. Re-establish the basic logistics and then you can move transitions back towards a traditional model. Until they do that, it's not going to get substantially better.
BOLDUAN: You were in Puerto Rico this week and you wrote this exactly to the president, saying that in the long term, the existing structure the way the order of command if you will is fine, but right now, you need someone, you need DOD to lead the charge to get food, water, life-saving things in the hands of the people to fix that break in the logistical chain. Have you heard back from the White House about this?
RUBIO: Well, I think they're moving in that direction. I think sending the general down there today and yesterday is important and I think they're going to come back with the same recommendation.
BOLDUAN: If he says he reports to FEMA and FEMA reports to the governor, is that--
RUBIO: That's the way it eventually will be again, yeah. But that's-- in my view. He knows more about it than I do. He's there now. If that's what his recommendation is then we'll see what the results are. You're asking me my view and my view is I have people that want to help, okay, I have aid lining up here and there that wants to get there. The aid can't even come in because the old aid that's already there hasn't been moved yet. So there's nowhere to put the new aid if the old aid hasn't gotten out. And that logistical chain has to be moved, that has to be improved, it’s broken, it’s shattered because the government of Puerto Rico itself is a victim of the hurricane and until the logistics is reestablished, at a core basic level so that you can get some basic stuff going, you're not going to go back to that traditional model. I don't know of any other organization in the country or the world that can do that faster or better than the U.S. military, but they have to have the authority to say ‘go,’ and it happens. And some of that is happening--
BOLDUAN: Who makes that call, senator?
RUBIO: Well obviously the president would. But look, I understand the sensitivities, OK. I don't think anyone wants to able to say ‘we couldn't handle it so the federal government had to come in here and take it over.’ That's not what we're talking about. The government of Puerto Rico will still be the government of Puerto Rico. And they will be in charge of the mid- and long-term recovery. I'm just talking about logistics. We need to put someone who knows about logistics in charge of logistics with the authority to act quickly and decisively without going through a bureaucracy of five different decision makers and I hope that that's what's happening today. You do that and things will start to get better. You don't do that and you're going to keep reporting on these things. Again, it's not because the president doesn't care, it's not because we responded too late, it's not because people aren't working hard, it's because the process is not going to work in the circumstance until we deal with logistics first.
BOLDUAN: Two things can be true, that the government is trying to help, and everyone's heart is in the right place, but also that it is not enough, right?
RUBIO: It's not that it's not enough. It's that it’s not enough in the right places. In essence, there's a lot of food coming in, a lot of water, a lot of medical assistance, but if that medical assistance is sitting at the port, it's theoretically, yes it’s in Puerto Rico, but it's not enough. You’ve got to get it from the port to the people who need it. And that's the problem. We don't know where they are because of communications. They don't have enough gasoline or trucks to get it there. Some of the roads are damaged. My staff visited a community yesterday where the mayor had to establish a zip line because a bridge had gone down. That might be okay to get some healthy people across, but how are you going to get gasoline on a tank on a zip line. Who is going to rebuild that bridge? I don't know of anyone that can do that right now in a short term quickly unless it’s the Army Corps of Engineers who's on the ground and more of that will need to happen. And that's been my argument and so I know they're moving in that direction, my only encouragement is, they keep moving in that direction and do it as quickly as possible. The faster they do it, the shorter time frame they have for decision making, the quicker this thing will begin to improve.
BOLDUAN: Senator, real quick, I do want to ask you because Florida is still recovering, of course. And we did just learn today, it was confirmed a 12th patient died at that nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, after losing power after Hurricane Irma. 12 people now.
RUBIO: Yeah. Terrible tragedy.
BOLDUAN: What do you say?
RUBIO: It’s a terrible tragedy and obviously there’s law enforcement involvement in that now and a full investigation and that will move in that direction. It's unacceptable. But I think it also enlightens us, these storms, also reveal vulnerabilities. They’ve revealed some vulnerabilities in Puerto Rico, they’ve revealed vulnerabilities in Florida. It’s not just nursing homes by the way. We have a lot of senior housing places, we have an ALF [assisted living facility] in southwest Florida where the staff, on the eve of the hurricane, just went home. They just left. They left eight seniors there by themselves and had it not been for great students at Ave Maria University and local sheriff’s deputies, those seniors at that assisted living facility would have ridden out the storm without anybody there with them in a home that wasn't secure. When they left it wasn’t secure. So this exposed some real vulnerabilities that I know state officials are going to look at and even the Senate’s Aging Committee has begun to look at as well to see what federal policies could do to analyze and confront that.