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VIDEO: Rubio Discusses Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico, State Department Response to Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Havana
Miami, FL – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared on CBS’ Face The Nation 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 U.S. State Department’s recent decision to withdraw staff from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba
A downloadable broadcast quality version of the interview is available for TV stations here. Key excerpts of Rubio’s remarks are transcribed below.
JOHN DICKERSON: Senator, you wrote a letter to the president this week about the situation in Puerto Rico. You said there is no clear command and control. Has that been worked out? And is enough being done at the federal level?
RUBIO: Well I think it really hopefully began to turn on Thursday evening when General Buchanan arrived and sort of command began to take over the daily tactical and logistical operation on the ground.
My concern was not that FEMA wasn’t responding. There’s a tremendous amount of aid that’s gone into Puerto Rico. The problem is, as I said to someone yesterday, there’s aid getting to Puerto Rico but it wasn’t getting to Puerto Ricans because it had to be distributed from San Juan to the different municipalities. And then within those municipalities distributed to people. They had established this sort of hub and spoke system where all the aid came in and then it had to be distributed out. Those distribution systems were victims of the storms themselves. They were broken.
And so I felt, and I continue to feel, the Department of Defense are the only people that could’ve gone out and reestablished that. And I hope that’s what has begun to happen. There are some small, inkling signs of progress in that regard. And obviously from the time they make a move to the time you start to see its effects, will take a number of days.
There are some other issues now emerging that I think are problematic and I am very concerned about the situation with the hospitals in Puerto Rico. I’ve heard some concerning things about that and hopefully we’ll keep an eye on that as well.
DICKERSON What concerns you the most about the hospitals?
RUBIO: I am concerned about the capacity of these hospitals. I’m concerned how many medical personnel might still be around and do they have sufficient quantities of that?
And obviously the fuel system in these hospitals require the operation of generators. So do they get enough of the fuel to those hospitals in time to continue to operate? We’ve had reports of hospitals calling in the middle of the night to say “we’re down to two hours of operating fuel” so I know that FEMA and I know that emergency responders are aware of this and are trying to address it on the front end but that’s something to keep an eye on.
DICKERSON: You mentioned that General Buchanan got there on Thursday. That’s almost a week after this started. Was there just not fast enough recognition from the administration or from the Department of Defense to get in there?
RUBIO: You know, I think what it — they responded to the storm the way we respond to storms. They responded to it in a way no different than Texas or Florida in terms of the assets. And what that is is the federal government says, “We are here,” to the local government or to the state government, and in the case of Puerto Rico the territorial government there. “We’re here to help. Tell us what you need.”
That model generally works. It’s worked in Florida a couple weeks ago. It’s helped in Texas. It didn’t work in Puerto Rico. And the reason why it didn’t work is because the government of Puerto Rico itself is a victim of the storm. There are 78 municipalities. Some of those mayors themselves couldn’t communicate with San Juan. And even if they could, and even if you could get to them and deliver aid to those mayors, they didn’t have enough municipal employees to be able to deliver the aid. Or they didn’t have the resources like fuel, or vehicles, or even drivers in many cases. So they recognized that a few days later. But, again, from the time you make a decision to make a change to the time you start to see its impact takes a number of days. And hopefully we are now at that point in time where we’re going to begin to see some measurable progress.
DICKERSON: Speaking of the government, the president has been quite critical of the mayor of San Juan. What do you make of that?
RUBIO: I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it to be honest with you because right now, having lived through four hurricanes, nothing like what Puerto Rico’s facing, you know, our desire is to be a voice and a force for positive results, helping people. I truly believe that if we don’t get ahead of the curve there bad things are going to happen. Some have already happened unfortunately. Because storms are terrible things. Especially in an area like Puerto Rico where people have been without electricity now for over a week. A food issue, et cetera. But I do think every minute we spend in the political realm bickering with one another over who’s doing what, or who’s wrong, or who didn’t do right is a minute of energy and time that we’re not spending trying to get the response right. And so I think when this is all said and done we’re going to have time to stop, and look back, and say, “Should things have been done differently?” I think everyone involved in the response has things they could have done better. But right now I hope we’ll stay 100% focused on what needs to be done to get the people of Puerto Rico help. And then we’ll have plenty of time in the future to have these debates about who didn’t do the right thing or what could have been done better.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question about Cuba, an issue you spent a lot of time working on. You’ve been critical of the State Department’s response to the attacks on diplomats in Cuba. You said it’s weak, unacceptable, and outrageous. But is there any evidence that the Cuban government has been behind these attacks?
RUBIO: Well, obviously I’m limited in what I can discuss in, in a media program like this. Let me just say this. Cuba is one of the most tightly controlled and monitored society in the world. Anyone who’s interacted Cuba, been to Cuba, or has anything to do with Cuba understands that very little happens in Havana that the Cuban government doesn’t know about, especially Americans working for the State Department. So the idea that over 20 Americans working for the State Department, working for the U.S. embassy could be severely injured in Cuba and the Cuban government not know anything about it is ridiculous.