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Trump Meets Storm Victims; Health Care Issues in Puerto Rico; Education in Puerto Rico; Puerto Rican Death Toll; Las Vegas Concert Shooting. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 3, 2017 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two things are very obvious to anyone who's on the ground. One, the first responders there in big numbers. They're working very, very hard. Wolf, there's no question about that.

We talked to different leadership positions. We talked to the people who were there just doing the work. And they needed some reassurance because they believed that they were being de-righted by the media.

And we know where that comes from. The president has said that the media is going after first responders which has, of course, never been true. So, they are there. They're working in earnest.

The second thing that is equally true, Wolf, is that the relief is not reaching the people the way it needs to. There may have been things delivered to all 78 municipalities, as the White House is putting out, but it's not getting to the people.

Why? Two big reasons. One, communications, Wolf, they don't have them. So, they don't even know where to go. We were watching this pick-up truck with a huge speaker on the back of it, announcing to people where to go to file a FEMA claim and to wish them well.

The second reason is logistics. Dealing with a government that is inefficient on a local level. The typical chain of command that you've seen so many times play out with the state when the National Guard and the feds come in. It didn't happen that way there.

And there are other logistical problems that go from the physical to the strategic. But the bottom line is, we know they're there. They're working very hard. And it's not getting done the way it needs to get done -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's see if the president will say a few words right now. He's getting closer to the camera crews out in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He's there. He's already had one meeting with the governor, among others. The governor is there with him.

Let's listen in and see what he's saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (live): I think that it's wiped (ph) out enough, huh?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's, like, the country holds up and the wood doesn't, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The wood is not holding up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember, 220 hospitals.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I know that. So, were you in the house when it was happening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we were.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And what did you think? Did you think that was the end or did what did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, we knew the inspectors were called (ph), however the winds (ph) were never expected. It was worse than anything.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Worse than anything you've seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything before. (INAUDIBLE.)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But did you fear that the house was going to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second floor probably. Not the house.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And that sort of happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it happened.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is here with the administrator. FEMA is going to come over here with the efforts to rebuild. So, we'll make it get back again. All right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And your governor and your mayor have done a really fantastic job, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

BLITZER: We just heard the president of the United States tell a San Juan resident, your governor and your mayor have done a really fantastic job. I'm going to keep on listening in and see what else we can hear from the president. You see Melania, the first lady, Melania Trump, with the president as they are walking around right now.

What was interesting when he said not just the governor but the mayor of San Juan has done a fantastic job. She was at the meeting with the president that started about an hour or so ago. Clearly, there was some tension between the president and the mayor but maybe they've cleared that up.

Chris Cuomo, you were there. You had a chance, I assume, to meet with the mayor. I spoke with her. She is -- she was really upset at the comments from the acting secretary of Homeland Security, when she suggested, the acting secretary, this was a good story.

Unfortunately, I think we've lost our connection with Chris but we'll get back to him shortly.

Yes, are you there, Chris?

CUOMO: Yes, I am, sir. I just lost the second half of that.

BLITZER: Yes. No, I was just wondering, when you heard the president say the governor and the mayor have done a really fantastic job, I thought that was significant.

CUOMO: Yes.

BLITZER: Because it looks like he and the mayor of San Juan seem to have improved their relationship.

CUOMO: Well, look, that can only be a good thing, any way you want to measure it. Any kind of political intrigue right now, any kind of negativity is inherently counterproductive.

Why? Because it's not about them. They have to do their jobs and get their help for the people who need it on the ground. You are already dealing with a deficient situation in Puerto Rico. You already have a huge basis of need. That was in the best of days.

[13:05:02] So, the political intrigue, while, you know, it may have driven a lot of headlines, did nothing to benefit the people on the ground there. And the leadership that's needed is the hardest type of leadership, Wolf, which is banging out those logistics, figuring out how to deal with your fuel problems and your roads. And we have tremendous men and women there, in terms of, you know, physical resources to do this work.

But it is slow going. That's not an irrational criticism. It's not fake. It's the truth. And anywhere that the president goes on the ground, he's going to see it first hand.

Again, we went 15 minutes outside that place by design, Wolf, because our feeling was, certainly this place will have been flooded with the types of help it needs. And no pun intended there, obviously.

But when we got there, there was not a single sign of any relief agency there, other than a local church. We saw a local church there in their red petties. They were doing help. And that's a beautiful thing and charity is always needed in these situations. And recovery is always slow. I don't need to tell you that. You've covered it all over the world.

But it is equally true that they didn't have the communications. They were only acting off rumors. Even if there were stores of things for them to get, essentials, they didn't know where.

And they were getting scared about what time will bring for them. That's just the truth. And he will hear it and he will see it wherever he goes. It doesn't mean that there's not massive manpower there. That everybody's working. That they're getting things out. That they're doing things better day by day. It's all true, Wolf.

So, the leadership that's needed is that which drives the positive and the productive. And if the president sets that tone on the ground, great. If he puts to bed any kind of silly political opposition, even better.

BLITZER: Yes, it looks like he's trying to do that. He's trying to move on right now. And now, he's in a meeting with some residents in Puerto Rico right now, hearing their stories. He's only going to spend, I think, about five or six hours on the ground in Puerto Rico, before he heads back to Washington.

Tomorrow, he'll be heading out to where you are in Las Vegas to meet with survivors, family members from the horrible, horrible massacre that occurred Sunday night. We're obviously going to have a lot more on that story coming up.

But I want to focus in on Puerto Rico right now because the president of the United States is there. David Lapan is with us. He's the press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

It looks like the president is trying to reach out and move beyond that little, very bitter, personal attack, counter attack, that he and the mayor went through.

DAVID LAPAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR MEDIA OPERATIONS, U.S. DHS: Well, and as Chris said, it's only to the positive. Again, we need everybody together, working together. It's always the case in a disaster situation like this that the federal government relies on local officials, from the governor on down.

And so, we need every mayor, every municipality leader to be on the same team with us and help us get the aid to the people who need it.

BLITZER: It looks like everyone is with the president right now, including your boss, the acting secretary of Homeland Security. She's there. The governor is there. The mayor is there. The three-star General Buchanan --

LAPAN: Right.

BLITZER: -- who's in charge of this recovery operation in Puerto Rico.

Anybody not there who's working this problem?

LAPAN: So -- and just one thing. General Buchanan is certainly in charge of the U.S. military effort, the DOD piece of this. But FEMA is still the lead federal agency. There is a federal -- an FCO there who has the lead for all the federal effort. But General Buchanan is leading the DOD effort.

And you're right. A lot of people on the ground there, certainly cabinet officials, who will leave today with the president and go back. And the folks on the ground will continue the hard work.

BLITZER: He's standing. He's posing for pictures with residents there in the San Juan area. And as we've been saying, you know, David, it's one situation in San Juan. A very different situation when you leave the city. As Chris Cuomo just said, maybe 15 minutes outside of the capital, an hour, a half an hour outside of the capital, a very different situation.

You guys are making progress. Let's go through some of the numbers and I'm sure you have them off the top of your head. How many FEMA officials are on the ground right now in Puerto Rico?

LAPAN: So, more than 600 FEMA officials and more than 12,000 federal officials who include --

BLITZER: Does that include the military?

LAPAN: -- the military. It does include the military and not the Puerto Rican --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How many military personnel?

LAPAN: I don't have that break down. So, 12,000 total feds --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: 12,000 military and civilian.

LAPAN: Right.

BLITZER: Including Coast Guard.

LAPAN: Correct.

BLITZER: The Coast Guard is on the scene as well.

LAPAN: Yes.

BLITZER: And the president will also be meeting with the governor from the U.S. Virgin Islands who's going to be coming over to Puerto Rico. They're going to meet aboard a ship and he'll get a briefing.

The situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands is, by all accounts, pretty awful right now as well. LAPAN: It is. And thanks for bringing that up because, often times,

with the focus on Puerto Rico, they're -- you know, rightfully so, but not to forget the Virgin Islands which also was devastated by the storm.

[13:10:00] BLITZER: What was she suggesting when she said this was a good news story because there's been a lot of backlash as a result. Authorities a lot of backlash with that. What was she trying to convey?

LAPAN: I think she was -- well, I know she was trying to convey her pride in the effort in the hard work being done by the men and women of not only the Department of Homeland Security, all of our federal partners as well as the governor and officials in Puerto Rico as well.

So, I think, again, that she was trying to convey that there was a lot of hard work, that there are good things going on, that people are working hard. But she said, we won't be satisfied until power is back on, kids are back in school, families are back in their homes.

BLITZER: Yes. About an hour or so ago, the president had a meeting with all the top officials, the Puerto Rican officials, U.S. government officials, military personnel. And he said -- I don't know if he was trying to joke a little bit. But he said that, what, the disaster, the hurricane fallout in Puerto Rico has thrown our budget out of whack. You heard him say that.

LAPAN: Right.

BLITZER: Does that set the right tone for this kind of meeting that he's having today when he's saying that the disaster that has -- that has happened in Puerto Rico has set the federal budget out of whack?

LAPAN: But I think he also went on to say, but we'll take care of it. It's certainly just a matter of fact that, not only what's happened in Puerto Rico, but three major storms that have impacted the United States over the last month require lots of resources. And they're going to require resources for years to come.

BLITZER: Yes. He tweeted this the other day. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them, when it should be a community effort. That's what, in part, got the mayor very upset.

LAPAN: Right.

BLITZER: Although now, the president suggesting that the governor and the mayor have done a really fantastic job.

But you can understand why people in Puerto Rico were upset when he said, they want everything to be done for them. The president.

LAPAN: Well, and -- yes, I understand why people are upset. But the other unique element of this storm is just the impact to the people of Puerto Rico, to include local officials. You know, you talk about truck drivers not being available. Well, it's because they've been severely impacted by the storm. Their ability to get to their jobs has been impacted in ways that we've not seen.

So, it's not so much blaming anyone, but recognizing the conditions that's made it hard for the island and the people of the island to be part of the solution as we would like them to be. But that's improving every single day.

BLITZER: Do you have any estimate at all, from the Department of Homeland Security, how many billions, if not 10s of billions of dollars, it's going to cost to fix -- to help the people of Puerto Rico right now?

LAPAN: I don't think we know yet, Wolf, because assessments are going on at all times. Certainly, the power grid is going to be a huge piece of that and that will take years. And so, trying to ascertain, trying to assess how much aid is going to be required to put the infrastructure back in some semblance of order, not only this year but in the years ahead.

BLITZER: The president, we expect him to be speaking shortly. I don't know if you have to leave but if you can stick around for a little while, --

LAPAN: OK.

BLITZER: -- that would be good.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our Chief Medical Correspondent, has been over, these past several days, in Puerto Rico. He's still there right now. Sanjay, if you have a question for David Lapan, the Press Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that would be good. But I also want to get your sense of where things stand right now from the medical perspective because there is a huge need.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICALO CORRESPONDENT: There is a tremendous need and we're in that, sort of, window right now, Wolf, where there are people who may not have been adversely affected by the hurricane itself. They survived that.

But, you know, this is an elderly population. They're more likely to have illnesses, like hypertension and diabetes. And many of them have gone without medications for some time. So, you're turn -- the situation could turn into a concern about preventable deaths, at this point.

That is what I'm hearing a lot from the relief organizations on the ground. Project Hope, for example, has been doing incredible work, literally getting out on foot, walking around, treatment bags in hand, trying to reach some of these hard-to-access areas.

There are people who have been going without for some time over there. So, it's really -- it's a crucial time right now. Because, again, these aren't people who were necessarily directly affected at the time of the hurricane but are teetering on the edge right now. And I think that's where a lot of the focus, I think, has been.

BLITZER: You know, you make an excellent point, Sanjay. You've been to the hospitals. And I think that maybe there were 40 or 50 major hospitals in Puerto Rico right now. Maybe 50 or 60 are fully operational. What are you hearing about those kinds of numbers?

[13:15:00] GUPTA: Well, you know, there's a -- there are some hospitals that are doing -- able to do more work, able to take in more patients than before. The concern is this, maybe I can just paint a picture because it's a little bit -- it's important to the nuance here.

And that is that you may get a certain amount of fuel for a period of time and that renders your hospital now up and functioning. The concern really is, is it going to be something that's reliable. So if you're told you have a day's worth of fuel, are you going to say, OK, we'll have a day's worth of fuel so I can take more patients into the hospital now. But what happens if that fuel doesn't get replenished the next day or the day after that. Those patients then have to be transferred out. Are they not going to be able to get the level of care that they're -- they would otherwise be getting?

There's also many people, it sounds like, talking to people, hospitals in the central part of the island. They're concerned that there are many people still within their own communities and shelters because they're too sick to have actually been able to get to hospitals yet. So they've got to prepare for that as well, be able to take care of the acute patients right now reliably and anticipate the other ones that are going to be coming in over the next several days and weeks.

BLITZER: Sanjay, I want you to hold on for a moment. David Lapan is still with us, the press secretary from the Department of Homeland Security.

Public schools in Puerto Rico, I saw the other day, they're going to be closed for a long time, maybe the entire school year, at least in big chunks of the island. Is that right?

DAVID LAPAN, PRESS SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: So I don't know how long they're going to be closed. They're certainly looking at the impacts. And we're starting to look at what other options there might be to include relocating some of those children to mainland United States for schooling. So we're early in the process. But that's something that we're working with the governor and government of Puerto Rico to consider what the long-term impacts might be and what we might be able to mitigate that.

BLITZER: There are about 3.5 million U.S. citizens, all U.S. citizens --

LAPAN: Right.

BLITZER: Who live on the island of Puerto Rico. But a lot of them, for understandable reasons, want to come to the mainland, come to the United States, settle their kids in school, for example. You see huge numbers trying to get out right now? LAPAN: Not right now, but part of that is, again, because of the

impacts of the storm, it's only been very recently that all of the airports have been opened and that airlines are running regular service. But we're also having to deconflict those flights with, again, aid and medical supplies and things like that. So it's balancing commercial flights that are able to take people off of the island to other places like the mainland United States when they are still degraded in their ability to operate fully.

BLITZER: As you know, the president contrasted the death toll in Puerto Rico with what happened in Katrina. More than 1,500 people died during Katrina. The numbers -- what are the latest numbers in Puerto Rico right now that you have?

LAPAN: So the number -- the death toll in Puerto Rico remains at 16. And I believe that in -- earlier when the president was there, one of the officials from the government of Puerto Rico verified that that remains the same. We do expect that to rise certainly, especially as we get out into more remote areas of the country. But it is pretty astonishing again given the size and the storm and the devastation so that at this point only 16 confirmed deaths.

BLITZER: All right, David Lapan, I want you to stand by, if you can.

Chris Cuomo is still with us. He was in Puerto Rico. He's now in Las Vegas.

Chris, I want you to update our viewers right now, as we wait for the president, we think he's going to be speaking shortly. But right now I want to get an update from you. you're there on the scene. The latest information we're getting on the massacre Sunday night at that country music -- that concert that was so awfully disruptive.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, the most important thing for people to know is that this situation is far from over. The street behind us that runs in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel isn't open and it's not that way because of convenience. It's closed because it's an active crime scene. They are still very much trying to process what happened there. A lot of people were hit. They have to understand everything that happened. It takes time. It's painstaking.

Also, there's a lot of unknowns left here. You have such a massive humanity to have gone through the hospital system here and the trauma centers here that people are still trying to connect. And that's really important for people to remember as well. So investigativly it's not just about looking into this madman that decided to murder all of these people. Yes, that's part of it. But who are the people who are hurt? Have they found their families? What are the resulting injuries? How long is it going to take to care for them? How long is it going to take to understand what happened here to help build on the investigation in terms of what may need to change going down the road. All of that has to happen and it's happening concurrently, and that's going to take time.

Now somebody who knows this very well, and, in fact, gave me a lot of that information herself is the senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, a democrat here in Nevada.

[13:20:01] Senator, I'm sorry to have to be with you under these circumstances, but thank you for trying to help us understand the situation.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D), NEVADA: Thank you.

CUOMO: And you were saying the identification and the understanding of the crime scene itself and the connecting of families who are looking for loved ones, still very much in its initial stages.

MASTO: That's right, Chris.

So last night I was at the family resource center that has been set up in our community to connect family members with their loved ones. And there are still families there that have not found their loved ones. And not for lack of trying, because they've gone to the hospitals. They've gone around to try to find where they are and locate them and they still haven't.

CUOMO: Because?

MASTO: Because either they are -- their identification is not with them or because our coroner is working night and day to identify the unfortunate, horrific death toll of the 59 and identify them. And so it is taking our coroner time to do it. And they are working through that process and working 24-7.

They have the support of the medical examiners from the city of New York, as well as the coroner's office in San Bernardino. Everybody's working very hard.

But at the same time, those families are suffering. And, to me, that's what this is about right now. I get into my -- I went to UMC, I went to the family resource center. I've talked with these families. They're suffering and they are looking for some sort of hope that their loved one, they can connect with them and find them and that they're still alive.

And so there's a lot that's still, in this community, unknown. And for me and many of my colleagues in this community, it's about bringing that support and that comfort and that relief. I can't tell you how many grief counsellors are out in our community right now. I am -- I am proud of the response of our community because everybody's come out.

But the grief counsellors were there. They're in our hotels because our staff, who were affected by this horrific event that happened on -- south of the strip were there, were -- saw it. It is going to scar many of us emotionally for a long time.

CUOMO: And they just -- in terms of symbols, symbols matter in situations like this, how people remember. You know, every time you look at that hotel, those two windows stick out more than anything else. And, obviously, that's where this murderer was as he was firing down on the concert. And one of the realities here that you'll have to deal with going

forward in terms of what can be done to make this less likely to ever occur again is, you know, a lot of this is so ugly and it's so harsh for people to have to hear, but it's the truth. Your coroner and those who are coming in to help him are having a hard time identifying people because of what happens when they get hit by these kinds of rounds moving at this kind of speed. It's not as easy as people assume. I mean they think that they'll look and say, oh, that's Chris, OK, great, we have that done. It takes time. And that speaks to a little bit of the gravity of the situation, does it not?

MASTO: Well, I don't want to put words in the coroner's mouth. I know after talking -- our coroner's top notch. And I've worked with him for a number of years. I have every confidence in him. But he is doing his job and he is making sure that --

CUOMO: Sure. But it's a hard job in situations like this.

MASTO: Because, remember, it's a crime scene as well (ph). It is absolutely hard, right.

CUOMO: Right.

MASTO: And so they are -- and the other thing is, it's not -- it was such a massacre. And it was horrific. And so they are inundated. And so it's a matter of making sure that they are preserving whatever evidence that they need to for our law enforcement, but at the same time doing what they need to do to get through this.

And as fast as they can to make sure that those families don't suffer that are still waiting for an answer. And so that's part of this.

And let me also put this in perspective because I was born and raised -- this is my community. I was born and raised here. My husband and I still live here. I can tell you, there are many of us that had family and friends at that concert. And this is going to live with us for a long time.

Now with that said, this community and the outpouring and the response was phenomenal because after 9/11, not only for our first responders, our law enforcement, our medical, but all of the staff that you see every time you come out to Las Vegas in these hotels, they have been exercising and training twice a year sometimes since 9/11 to respond to any horrific event. And so -- and they work 24-7.

CUOMO: Right.

MASTO: So this is about everybody that has been prepared for an incident, not that you ever want it to happen, but they're all coming together, they've trained and they're working very hard and will continue to bring that support to southern Nevada. We get over, what, over 40 million visitors here annually.

CUOMO: There's no question. And even that, with all the volume, you could never really fully prepare for something like this. And it's going to lead to larger discussions. What do you do here in terms of soft target security? What do you do with the fact that we see so many of these, frustrations is always the same, how did this guy get this many guns and be able to do this much damage? Look what they were able to do. And that discussion stalls almost as quickly as it starts every time we have one of these.

Do you think, when you go to D.C., anything is different with the discussion about how to stop this from happening again than it is right now?

MASTO: It can't be. And I'll tell you why it's not going to be different for me, because now I'm in D.C.

[13:25:04] I just had a conversation with my colleague, Chris Murphy, this morning. We are aligned. We need to have this discussion. And now I get to be a part of that discussion, which is very important for me. I was the attorney general here for eight years, prosecutor for 10 years, on the forefront of advocating for common sense gun control measures in Nevada and across the country. I will continue to do so. This is such an important discussion we need to have.

And I think many here in Nevada get it. That's why they passed question one here, supporting background checks and making sure that guns aren't in the hands of mentally ill or terrorists. It is a conversation that we are ready to have in this country that many support and we should be having it. And I think it's an important discussion.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see because, you know, laws are only as good as enforcement and you've got one of the ugliest realities here where he was able to get them.

But we look forward to covering that part of the situation.

MASTO: Thank you.

CUOMO: Senator, again, I'm sorry for what your community suffered here and we're here to tell the story.

MASTO: Thank you. Thank you for being here.

CUOMO: All right, Wolf, to you, sir.

BLITZER: All right, Chris, we're going to get back to you. I'm going to pick your brain on what's going on, not only in Las Vegas, but what you saw in Puerto Rico as well.

We're getting new information as we speak right now, new information on the gunman's past. We're also getting some new video from inside the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

We'll take a quick break. Our special coverage resumes right after this.

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