REMARKS FOLLOWED BY Q&A BY VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE,
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR SECRETARY ALEXANDER ACOSTA,
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY ELAINE CHAO,
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY DAVID SHULKIN,
ACTING DEPARTMENT HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY ELAINE DUKE,
TEXAS GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT
ON HURRICANE HARVEY RECOVRERY EFFORTS
Corpus Christi International Airport
Corpus Christi, Texas
4:50 P.M. CST
GOVERNOR ABBOTT: I want to take an opportunity to thank the Vice President of the United States for coming to Texas today. We had a remarkable and informative, but also a heartbreaking trip as we saw devastation from Rockport to Aransas County, all the way over to Victoria. We saw broken homes, and we talked to so many people with broken hearts.
But we also saw something that is so incredible that has arisen because of this crisis, and that is the resiliency of our fellow Texans and our fellow Americans.
We went up to some homes of people who had their homes completely destroyed. They were sitting out front, and they were just proud to be a Texan and proud that we were there to help them out. We went to help remove debris from a lawn that was completely littered. And I had a chance to hold a two-week-old baby, a baby that was born just days before Hurricane Harvey hit our coast. And his mom was a prideful mom, beaming with that big motherly smile that you would expect as if the storm had never hit. But I want you to know it has hit. It’s hit the lives of the people all the way from Nueces County to Jefferson County, and horrific flooding in between.
And I am so proud of the way that the President and the Vice President and their entire Cabinet have stood up, stood strong, and supported the people of Texas.
Since more than a week before the hurricane even came ashore, the President and his Cabinet were in constant contact with my office asking, Governor, what can we do for the people of Texas? Ever since then, there’s been close daily collaboration between my office with local officials, with the White House, and with their Cabinet.
I’ve never seen a President, a Vice President, or a Cabinet who have responded as swiftly and as effectively to people in need like the people of Texas overcoming the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey.
Mr. Vice President, I thank you. I thank the President. I thank the Cabinet members with us here today.
But candidly, I got to tell you, the people I thank the most are our fellow Texans -- the way that we see Texans helping Texans, rescue each other, pull each other of flooding waters and save their lives, it’s the average, everyday Texan who are the true heroes.
But we know, Mr. Vice President, that this is going to take more than a few days for us to overcome. It’s going to take months as we go into the transition period, and then years for us to fully recover. And I could not be prouder to have as partners in this process President Trump, our tremendous Vice President, and the men and women who serve in the President’s Cabinet.
I’m honored to have with me here today a man who is more than the Vice President of the United States, a man who is a friend, a man who knows how to govern, a man who knows how to face challenges and overcome those challenges, a man who will help Texas lead to build an ever better Texas. I’m proud to introduce Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor Abbott. And, Cecilia, thank you for the extraordinary leadership that you're providing for the people of Texas.
I think the President said just yesterday that you were doing an incredible job, and traveling as we did today here through Corpus Christi and Rockport and Victoria, seeing the response on the ground, seeing the results, I echo that with a grateful heart. Thank you for your leadership.
I’m also grateful to be joined by members of our Cabinet -- Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shulkin, and who else is back here? Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, and we’ll hear just momentarily from each one of them, as well as our Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke.
The President send Karen and I here today to survey the damage and ensure that the full resources of the federal government are being brought in support of the effort of state and local officials to rescue those that are in harm’s way, to help communities begin to recover, and to lay a foundation to rebuild Texas in the wake of this horrific storm.
The President will be returning to Texas this Saturday with the First Lady and will be traveling to Houston and other destinations within the state, again, to reinforce our administration’s commitment to bring the resources and the compassion of the American people to this dire moment in the life of Texas.
The President also sent me here with a very simple message: First, a message of gratitude to this governor and to state and local officials who have stepped forward with such professionalism and such consistency in this historic storm.
Secondly, a word of gratitude to all of your first responders here in Texas, those who at this very hour are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to rescue people and deliver them from danger. They and you have inspired the nation, and we commend them on behalf of our President.
I’m also here to express our appreciation and admiration for the federal team -- some 21,000 federal officials that are here on the ground in Texas -- Department of Defense personnel, FEMA personnel. Our President and our entire administration are proud of the long hours and the efforts that each of you have put into this effort to date and the commitment you have to see this through.
And lastly as the Governor alluded, I think Karen and I today were most inspired by the volunteers. To see the outpouring of compassion and concern was deeply inspiring to us. And every American should know that even in this difficult time and this disastrous storm, the very best are the people of Texas, and the very best are the people of America shining forth.
We stood in a yard. We watched total strangers helping to remove debris, helping people put their families and their lives back together. And on behalf of the President, I want to urge every American to do what Texans, who themselves are oftentimes dealing with hardship in their own household and their own family are doing, and that is find a way to help.
You can go online. You can donate resources, or you can do it like thousands of Americans are already doing and will be doing in the weeks and months ahead, and that is find a way to get here and be the hands and feet and compassion of the American people to help these families, help these communities rebuild.
President Trump often reminds that we are one American family, that when one hurts, we all hurt. We stand together in difficult times. And to the people of Texas, on behalf of President Trump, I say you were are in our prayers and in our hearts. And we are with you. As the President said in his visit here earlier this week and said again yesterday, I say today, on behalf of the American people, with the leadership of President Donald Trump to the people of Texas, we are with you today. We will be with you tomorrow, and we will be with you every day until this great state and these great communities recover and rebuild to be even better and stronger than ever before.
With that, allow me to recognize the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke.
ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Good afternoon. As the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, my job is to tell you about the work that the federal government is doing in supporting the Governor and the state of Texas in its recovery.
As the Vice President said, we've rescued more than 10,000 people from the state of Texas, and we're in the process of individual assistance to help people get back to their lives and homes.
To date, we've approved already over 100,000 requests, totaling $50 million of individual assistance.
Today, we saw some hope of the recovery. Some of the hope was in infrastructure. The Hobby Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport opening. But more important, we saw the hope in the people. This is a real partnership to complete the work that needs to be done in Texas. We, as the federal government will be supporting the state and its people. The not-for-profits that are here -- hugely important. Congress -- everyone it is important that we all come together.
And I think what was most momentous to me, led by the survivors that we met with today, was how much hope, joy, and love is still in Texas. And I just pray that that flows throughout the world and grows in the United States and beyond.
We will continue with the infrastructure recovery. We expect search and rescue to continue for the next couple days, the waters to peak -- hopefully within two days. And then as they recede, we can get out of the search and rescue mode and more further into recovery for the survivors in the area.
And again, I thank you, and it’s an honor to be here and be able to support this and take the energy back to DHS, where we will continue to work with the people of Texas.
Thank you. I’d like to turn it over now to Secretary Chao.
SECRETARY CHAO: Thank you. Today has been a very emotional and yet inspiring day as you have heard from the Governor, the Vice President, and also Secretary Duke.
The Department of Transportation is doing everything possible to support Governor Abbott and the people of Texas. We are making available more than $100 million in financial support to meet the infrastructure needs of Texas. There’s approximately $350 million impending Department of Transportation funds available to Texas between today and the end of the fiscal year, October 1st-September 30th.
The Department has over 40 staff in the Modal Administration’s ground, air, transit, railways, waterways on the ground coordinating, getting transit assets back up and running, finding drivers of buses and trucks, for example. And a team from the Federal Highways Administration has been on the ground before the storm even made landfall providing technical assistance to the Texas Department of Transportation.
We are working with the state of Texas to reopen the airports. So far, as you have heard, Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Houston IAH, Houston Hobby, and Victoria are open in some capacity. Beaumont Airport remains closed except for military flights.
Roads in the impacted areas continue to be inundated with water, with many closures. We are learning more by the hour, and are working with our state partners to assess conditions as quickly as the water recedes.
We have also identified more than 200 engineers who can be on the scene within 48 hours to begin expedited inspections of roads and bridges so we can be on the way to recovery.
Our crisis center is manned 24/7 to monitor critical infrastructure. We also have a special hotline for first responders and others who need to know how to get around blocked routes.
And just an hour ago I’ve signed an executive order at the request of Governor Abbott, basically waiving the requirements to allow expedited fuel deliveries from 25 surrounding states to help the delivery fuel to Texas because one of the things that we are learning is the declining supplies of aviation, oil, gasoline, all sorts of fuel supplies. So, Governor, we have waived that requirement and you've got.
GOVERNOR ABBOTT: Thank you. We need it. You're a blessing. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CHAO: I was once Secretary of Labor, so I cannot forget the current Secretary of Labor Alexis Acosta. Alexi?
SECRETARY ACOSTA: Thank you. Today was a difficult day. We saw a lot of destruction. But we also saw individuals, Texans that were here, as the Governor said, helping each other. Texans helping Texans. And my takeaway today is that Texans are survivors. They are helping each other. They are solving their problems.
The President also wants to make sure, however, that all of us in the Cabinet are here to support the Governor and to support his efforts. And so there are individuals that may be wondering what will happen to my job. Will it be there? Will I have to retrain?
And so the Department of Labor is making available to the state of Texas $30 million to assess workforce needs from the Dislocated Worker Fund. We've also approved disaster unemployment insurance so that those individuals that do not qualify otherwise through unemployment insurance can have access to a means to make it by until they find a job.
Today, we saw individuals that are going to survive and are going to rebound because they are resilient. They are determined to rebuild, and they have incredible character. And that's a testament to the people of this state, and that part of it was the best takeaway from today.
Thank you, Governor. And we have with us, as well, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary Shulkin.
SECRETARY SHULKIN: Good afternoon. We have over 528,000 veterans in the affected area, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is here to make sure that they're getting the care they need.
Our medical centers have remained open throughout Texas and Louisiana. And although some of our out-patient centers have been damaged, every day, we're getting more and more of those opened up. I’m very proud of the men and women that serve in the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure that fulfill that mission.
As many people said, today was an amazing day, and I was honored to be with the Vice President and Mrs. Pence, and the Governor and my fellow Cabinet members.
Wherever we went today we saw amazing volunteers. And no surprise, many of them were veterans. And again, those people who have stood up to serve their country -- put their life on their country -- continue to serve even after they come back. Veterans are amazing people who are giving to their community, and I was so proud to be with them today and to be able to see this firsthand.
I’m now going to turn this back to the Vice President who will take some questions.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Questions for me or for the Governor from any of the press.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Darlene Superville, Associated Press. How soon will the administration send its initial disaster aid request to Congress? How large will it be? And do you think this funding should be offset by budget cuts? Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Darlene. And let me say that the administration has already been in contact with members of Congress about a supplemental appropriations bill to deal with the immediate needs of federal assistance for individuals, as well as assistance to businesses that are recovering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And we expect Congress to move quickly on the initial legislation, and we’ll be working very diligently in the opening weeks of Congress to accomplish that.
But let me say we're very confident that members of Congress in both political parties appreciate the historic nature of this storm and understand the enormous burden that it’s placed on families and communities here in Texas. And we anticipate strong and bipartisan support for that measure.
I will tell you that decisions with regard to overall budgeting will be based on decisions that are made by members of Congress and by the President.
But as I’ve done in the past, I look forward to strongly supporting the President’s leadership as we make sure that Texas in real-time -- because we're still in the midst of rescue option and a recovery operation that's unfolding before us -- that in real-time has the resources, and that no Texan should doubt as they apply for available federal assistance, no small business or business that's affected should doubt that this administration, this Congress will come together and make sure those resources are there.
Q Mr. Vice President, Matthew Seedorf, NBC/Fox San Antonia. We've spoken to numerous people that have lost everything from this hurricane. I’m sure you have, as well. And they're terrified because they say FEMA is not getting back to them. What advice do you have for them specifically?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to ask Elaine to come forward. But at this point I can tell you as of this morning, we have actually had more than 311,000 citizens who have gone online or telephoned in to register for disaster assistance. And I am pleased and I think Texans should be encouraged to know that we've already distributed more than $530 million in assistance.
But as we focus on the rescue operation, and as of this morning there were still 900 calls per hour coming in, and saving lives has been the number one priority of the Governor, of the President, of all of us, and continues to be. We just urge people to take every opportunity that they have -- whether it’s by telephone or online -- to apply for that federal assistance and know that help is on the way.
And we’ll make sure that every Texan and every Texas business that it is entitled to federal support receives that support.
Elaine, did you want to add to that?
ACTING SECRETARY DUKE: Yes. I support everything the Vice President said. If you can get online, the best way to apply is online because you can enter a lot of the data that way. You're insurance, how to get back to you -- that is the best way if it’s possible. If not, use the phone banks.
We are -- I’ll call it triaging. So there’s people that have mortgage payments due that are currently not in situations where they need immediate assistance, so we are prioritizing based on that. Additionally, one of the challenges of individual assistance for this disaster is going to be the broad scope of where the floods were and how long the flood waters are lasting.
So we can't even get in there to start looking at damage to homes yet.
But I would say if you have immediate needs, call back. We're setting up a joint office here where all the federal resources. If you haven’t heard back in a day or two and would like to check on your application online or call and follow up. But if you're not a priority, it could take a couple days.
GOVERNOR ABBOTT: I want to add one important piece of information, and that is to go online go to DisasterAssistance.gov -- DisasterAssistance.gov. If you're in one of the counties that's been declared a federal disaster, you can get assistance. And we urge you to go online and register as quickly as possible at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Q Mr. Vice President, Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg News. Going back to offsets, sir, do you still stand by your position from 2005 that disaster relief funding should be offset by cuts elsewhere? And can you tell us what the Trump administration’s position will be on offsets, please?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know that President Trump’s top priority right now is focusing on rescue and recovery efforts. We're going to be working very diligently -- and already begun to work with the Congress to make sure that full resources to backstop those efforts, to provide for recovery, and ultimately to provide for rebuilding communities that have been devastated by Hurricane Harvey is there.
I was very pleased. Before I was a Vice President, before I was a governor, I was a member of Congress. And I was very pleased to support federal disaster funding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But in the months that followed that, I was also part of an effort in Congress to find savings in the budget to pay for that. And I would leave those decisions to members of Congress and to the President of the United States, as we move forward.
But I can tell you right now that the focus of President Trump, myself, the focus of this governor, our entire administration, and I believe the focus of every member of Congress, the local congressman of whom is with us today, Congressman Blake Farenthold, will be to work together on a bipartisan basis and make sure that none of the families that are feeling that anxiety we just heard about in the last question have any reason to be concerned that the resources will be there, the assistance that the American people have approved will be available. And as communities prepare to recover and to rebuild, I’m very confident that members of both political parties will work with our administration to move the legislation forward to rebuild Texas bigger and better than ever before.
Q Hi, Mr. Vice President, Elizabeth Landers representing the network pool today. Just wondering after seeing the damage here today with your members of the Cabinet, what do you think is going to be the hardest part of rebuilding Texas? Anything specific?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I will tell you -- and I know I speak for everyone gathered here -- that the sights and sounds and conversations we had today were just overwhelming. I think the resilience of the people of Texas has been inspiring. To see people who have gone through the horror of one of the largest natural disasters in American history, to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, passing out food to their neighbors, helping their neighbors clear out their homes with a smile on their faces, it’s humbling to me. And it’s deeply inspiring.
But I would tell you the long term challenge here will be -- is getting people back into their communities and into their homes. When we were in Rockport today, as I shared with the Governor, we heard from families and some high school students that were just very anxious to get back in their school. They wanted to have their senior year in their school in Rockport.
And we talked to families that were anxious to get back in their homes. I know as of this morning, FEMA had prepositioned some 2,000 manufactured homes. We've ordered another 4,000. We're looking to secure additional housing. The priority will be once we work our way through the rescue efforts, which are ongoing, and we move through recovery and then rebuilding, the priority of our administration working very closely with Governor Abbott and his administration is to get people back in their communities, get people back on their streets as quickly as possible.
And so housing and finding available housing will be a long-term challenge. But again, the sheer magnitude of this storm, its impacts that we saw on the ground from the air are not lost on anyone here. The President was deeply moved by the suffering and the struggle of the people of Texas when he was here on Tuesday. And he and the First Lady will be returning this Saturday.
And we're just going to stay with the people of Texas all the way through in not just the weeks and months but very likely the years that it will take for us to rebuild southeast Texas -- and we know we will with these good and strong people -- bigger and better than ever before.
Thank you all very much.
5:18 P.M. CDT