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Press Briefing By Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. The Committee for a Responsible Budget said that the plan will add $2.2 trillion to the deficit. Are they wrong?

GARY COHN, NEC DIRECTOR: 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.

Eamon.

EAMON JAVERS, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, CNBC: 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?

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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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?

COHN: Look, I told you it will benefit the middle class. I think that's what 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (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?

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 don't pay death tax.

On the AMT, I'm not going to get into deep, deep, 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. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Gary.

COHN: You're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary?

COHN: Yes. You. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 wouldn't 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?

COHN: In our outline, it's immediate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's immediate? COHN: It's immediate, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the same with the alternative minimum tax?

COHN: It's immediate. Everything is immediate. The only thing that phases out is the five-year expensing -- is a five-year expensing.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Last one, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?

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.

[15:05:04] Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary, one more? One more?

SANDERS: Thank you, Gary.

COHN: (INAUDIBLE) I going to go.

SANDERS: 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.

Thanks, guys.

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: 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. Peter.

PETER ALEXANDER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: 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?

BOSSERT: OK, 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. And so -- 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 Rossello called me a little after 8:00 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.

ALEXANDER: 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 haven't had a chance to even explore to see how they've been impacted by this?

BOSSERT: Yes, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quick follow on John, if I could. Had Governor Rossello, Tom, not requested -- protectively -- a waiver in the Jones Act, would you have seen a compelling reason to initiate a waiver?

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. So I've --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this just all overhyped, in simple terms?

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.

[15:10:07] But capacity is the issue. Lifesaving requirements, you know, that's the need. And we had that capacity met. So, in the middle, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

(OFF-MIC)

BOSSERT: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. 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?

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 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wouldn't airdrops circumvent all of that having to rebuild infrastructure and move things away?

BOSSERT: Yes. 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, pardon me, one-star general, General Kim, in place, who is 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. Sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?

BOSSERT: Yes, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the norm?

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. Ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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?

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.

[15:15:00] 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.

So, 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 it's 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. Ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If airdrops would --

(OFF-MIC)

BOSSERT: I'm going to call (ph) it. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If airdrops would help, why are those not happening? Is that a military issue? Is that a problem with them not stepping up?

BOSSERT: Yes, it's my belief that right now that both 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.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?

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 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 --

BOSSERT: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- are of your own making from not taking action sooner and bringing in the military sooner.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?

BOSSERT: Well, to my point earlier, we're getting a lot of supplies through. It's just perhaps some misreporting that misunderstands that fact. Ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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?

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 baseline municipal government functions because they've been affected. Their homes are destroyed, their families are put in peril. That's the capacity problem that I'm addressing.

[15:20:06] When you talk about money, I believe that the island authority in general, with 72 -- Puerto Rico -- $72 billion in debt, there's a restructuring effort underway. And Congress weighed in with the PROMESA Act, and that $72 billion is being restructured and handled through, in part, bankruptcy proceedings and so forth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But how is that impacting this response? Because the President brought it up.

BOSSERT: Well, I think the President -- I know the President brought it up in terms of recovery. But here's how it affects the response: What it does is it puts the island in a position where they don't have the financial resources to meet the cost-share requirement for all of these goods and resources, personnel and materiel flowing into the island.

What the President did was acknowledge that, publicly and privately; realize that that would be a problem, at the advice of the FEMA administrator, myself, and Secretary Duke; and he took the step of doing 100 percent federal cost-share adjustment to pay for all of this, from debris removal to debris pushing, power restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and all the emergency protective measures -- police, fire, EMS, truck drivers, all those sorts of things -- 180 days, so six months for the Virgin Islands and for Puerto Rico, until we can get our hands around this. All those functions and all those missions that I just described are all 100 percent federal cost-share. We don't want anybody worried about paper; we want them worried about people.

I'm going to take two more questions. Sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to follow that a little bit and ask. As you're starting to envision, down the road, if any sort of bailout might be part of this sort of broader recovery package, that you look for in a supplemental. And on that supplemental, I know the first crack at it will be relatively soon. Aides on Capitol Hill are suggesting that it could be the first week in October. Is that the timeline that you're anticipating? And have you started to compile that?

BOSSERT: As my colleague, Mr. Cohn, alluded to, we're certainly willing to negotiate with Congress if there's some better fiscal idea.

From an emergency management perspective, in the next coming weeks it's important to understand that FEMA just got a $7.1 billion appropriation released on October 1st, and what's going to happen now is we're going to go back for more. We're going to ask for that in the form of an emergency supplemental to provide money into the fund that does this lifesaving, life-sustaining effort, and even some of the early recovery efforts.

Whether we have to address or should address at that point the existing $72 billion worth of debt and how it's been restructured is something that I'll have to take my lead from the economists on and from some of the budget hawks. But I think that the best idea here for us would be to focus on PROMESA and PRASA, the electric power authority and the water authority. Those are the two concerning elements where they're going to have to be rebuilt, they're going to have to be rebuilt under proper management, and they're going to have to be rebuilt under proper rebuilding codes and standards to make sure that they can withstand a future hurricane, and that we don't just go back to sticks and wires in the future.

So we're going to put federal money into this. We should do it wisely and prudently. I've said that from this podium here before. President Trump believes in that seriously. I don't think we're going to have to address the debt restructuring issue in this next go- around, but if we do, and if Congress wants us to, President Trump is up to that challenge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) supplemental?

BOSSERT: Well, it's going to have to come, I think, in the next two to four weeks, but I can't put a better date on it. I'd refer you to Director Mulvaney.

Let me take one more question here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure if I still understand, why has it taken eight days to get a three-star general on the ground to start organizing this? We know the island situation, et cetera. But why eight days?

BOSSERT: Yes. Well, because it didn't require a three-star general eight days ago. Let me explain to you how the process works. It will be the best way of explaining the answer.

We have a three-star general in charge of this, and we had one in charge of this out of San Antonio from day minus-eight and day minus- two and all the way through until today. We forward-deployed a one- star general -- a brigadier general -- to take care of ground force command once we realized the problem of logistics distribution had outstripped the capacity of the affected municipal governments.

But that three-star general was there and running and coordinating operations as an extension of NORAD and Northern Command. We've made a number of improvements to that distribution process and that marshaling of military resources since, for instance, General Honore experienced the problems he did in Katrina. We've matured quite a bit since that day.

The three-star command structure that he lacked back then has been put in place and has been in place for this response out of San Antonio, and augmented by a Northern Command structure that's been pretty robust and forward-leaning here. They've been doing vocal authorities. They're not waiting for paperwork. They've been doing things that -- or on-command authority; they don't wait for a governor's request. So all those forward-leaning lessons have been applied here, but perhaps misunderstood.

But now the change, move here on day eight was to take that three-star general and to put him there, physically located in the field. I don't anticipate he'll stay there long, but he needs to get there, have his eyes on it, and make sure that he's comfortable with the interaction between his forces and the governor and the municipal forces, because it's a little bit of a different business plan model in the field, and because it's unique and it's an island 1,100 or so miles away from the nearest land in Florida.

[15:25:02] And so, once he's satisfied, I think -- or would expect that three-star general to recede back into his appropriate command structure. But for now, both he and his one-star subordinate command will be there in charge of ground forces and overall military marshals, and we'll end up with a lot more people there over the coming days to try to address this really significant problem and significant need.

And if that's okay, I'd like to make that my last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: San Antonio is thousands of miles from Puerto Rico.

BOSSERT: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why -- was it a mistake -- would you acknowledge it was a mistake, looking back, to not have this three-star general on the ground earlier?

BOSSERT: No, not at all. In fact, that doesn't affect the way we stage equipment and the way we handle area command and field operational commands. This is textbook and it's been done well. The unusual step has been to put the three-star general down forward- leaning. So, I have every confidence that we'll handle that in the best way possible.

Peter, if I could -- John, I'm going to see if that's my last question, if I can. As I always do, I'm going to end by saying I'd like everyone to say an extra special prayer for the people on Puerto Rico tonight. The U.S. Virgin Islands are dealing well. They're not getting a lot of coverage, but I'd like you to say that prayer for them as well.

And also for the 10,000-plus federal workers, several thousand other volunteer workers, businessmen and others, men and women that are helping those in need. Honestly, this is something that is going to require weeks and months' worth of patience as we restore power, get food and water, and return to normalcy.

So thank you so much for your time. I'm very proud of the Puerto Rican people, their strength and leadership. And Governor Rossello has our full confidence and faith. Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you, Tom. We're running kind of long today, so I'll jump straight into questions and we'll try to take a few before we have to cut off for the end of the day.

Steve.

STEVE: Has the President looked any further into Tom Price's use of a private plane? Is he taking any steps to crack down on this practice?

SANDERS: Look, as the President said yesterday, he's not thrilled -- certainly not happy with the actions. We're definitely looking at the issue. They're conducting both an internal and an IG full review.

But to be clear also, the White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at agencies, and that's something that we're certainly looking into from this point forward and have asked a halt to be put, particularly at HHS, on any private charter flights moving forward until those reviews are completed.

(OFF-MIC)

SANDERS: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Secretary Price expect to keep his job in this administration?

SANDERS: I think the President has addressed this yesterday. We're going through this process, we're going to conduct a full review, and we'll see what happens.

Justin.

JUSTIN: Can I ask two things? First, the President has, six times over the last couple days, said that a senator is in the hospital. I think that's a reference to Senator Cochran who is not in the hospital. And the reason that this is a relevant question is that the President said that they have the votes for the healthcare bill to pass.

So can you tell us what senator he is referring to? And if it is Senator Cochran, why, if the votes exist, that the Senate isn't voting on it now?

SANDERS: Look, our understanding is that the senator was physically unable to be here this week to actually participate in a vote. We're glad that he's fully recuperating. The point that we're making is that we have the votes on the substance but not necessarily on the process, which is why we're still confident that we can move healthcare forward and get it done in the spring.

JUSTIN: The second thing is, obviously the President didn't support Roy Moore in the primary, but he has moved to kind of warmly embrace him since then. But I guess what I'm wondering is, Judge Moore has made a series of controversial comments, saying homosexual conduct should be illegal; equating being gay to bestiality; saying that a lawmaker who's Muslim shouldn't be allowed to serve. I'm wondering why those comments shouldn't disqualify him from a presidential endorsement, particularly considering that from the campaign trail the President promised to be an advocate for those groups.

SANDERS: As we've said many times before, I'm not going to get into back-and-forth on political endorsements from the podium, so I'm not going to weigh in on a specific race ahead of time at this point.

Matthew.

MATTHEW: Thanks, Sarah. I want to follow up on that, because as he mentioned, Judge Moore said homosexuality should be illegal. He said that Sandy Hook was some sort of divine retribution. He said Keith Ellison should not be permitted to serve in Congress because he's a Muslim. So without asking about the specifics of the race, does President Trump share any of those views that I just mentioned? And if not, why does he think this person is fit to be a U.S. senator?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I have not taken a deep dive on every comment that the Senate nominee has made. But I certainly know where the President stands on those issues, and wouldn't see any parallel between the two of them on that front.

MATTHEW: Are there any beliefs a candidate could hold, or actions a candidate can take that, that if he were still a Republican, the President would not endorse him?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into every potential hypothetical that any potential candidate may or may not have over the course of the time that the President is the president.