MSNBC Anchors Clash With FEMA Administrator Over Government's Response to Devastation in Puerto Rico

September 29, 2017

MSNBC co-hosts Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle clashed with Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long on Friday over the federal government's response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Velshi said he has been hearing from correspondents about thousands of containers of supplies being trapped at San Juan port, noting people less than 30 minutes away are paying money for ice to keep their food cold.

Long pushed back against Velshi's characterization and said the bigger problem is "misinformation," noting that FEMA doesn't charge for food and commodities. This prompted Ruhle to jump in and defend the correspondents, saying she was not accusing FEMA of charging money for commodities.

"There's a ton of misinformation," Long said. "The other thing that we are doing, so that you can get the most accurate information, is we're holding press conferences from the joint field office in San Juan with DoD, the governor, and FEMA. What we're asking is, go to that press conference in the morning for where we are versus where we need to be to clear up the misinformation."

Velshi said he appreciated how often Long came onto the show to provide updates, but said he was "tired" of hearing about "misinformation" from the Trump administration. He said there is a "red tape problem,"  and that the U.S. government responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which is not a U.S. territory, faster than they are helping U.S. territory Puerto Rico.

"Why did Haiti get a response faster?" Velshi asked while interrupting Long's response, and prompting Ruhle to put her hand on his shoulder to allow Long time to respond.

"We had 4,500 [national] guards people on the island. You just showed that there were 2,000 in Haiti. We had 4,500 on the island before the storm and after the storm. We have over 10,000 people working on the island now, and just because they are not wearing camouflage doesn't mean they are not  part of this federal response," Long said.

He went on to talk about the complexity of the operation as a result of the local and state governments being "incapacitated" by damages.

"The federal government is shouldering the entire burden of being able to push as much as we can through, and that coupled with the island geography is making things complex. It's not moving as fast as anyone would like, including me, but we are forcing as much through that hold as we can to be able to get through," Long said.

Velshi said Long and others have said there are "federal reasons" for why the response has not been as fast, and so, said he did not know why Long was putting blame on "misinformation" and journalists.

"Sir, we just want to say we sincerely appreciate everything that you are doing, but in terms of shouldering a burden about misinformation," Ruhle said. "When we look at the images, when we speak to people on the ground it is very hard for us to understand why Tom Bossert would say, 'Well we didn't need a three-star general until day eight,' because by our estimation by day one, it was an absolute disaster. There are still people unaccounted for."

Long said he would be happy to embed MSNBC's cameramen with his teams, and reiterated his recommendation that the media cover the joint field office press conferences each morning in order to obtain the most accurate information.

While Velshi and Ruhle acknowledged the requests, they also repeated their complaints with the Trump administration for blaming journalists for misinformation, or blaming Puerto Rico's infrastructure, prompting Long to defend FEMA.

"Hold on a second, I'm not putting any blame on anybody or your journalists, I'm just saying there's a lot of information that's been flying around. We're trying to put out accurate information from FEMA as much as we can," Brock said. "We will be pushing the press conferences out and then I'm happy to embed your people, your camera people with our team."