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Full transcript of "Face the Nation" on September 1

9/1: Face The Nation
9/1: Face The Nation 47:23

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:

  • Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan (read more)
  • 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O'Rourke (read more)
  • Former FEMA Administrator Brock Long (read more)
  • CBS This Morning Lead National Correspondent David Begnaud (watch)
  • CBS News Climate & Weather Contributor Jeff Berardelli (watch)
  • CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann (watch)
  • CBS News Correspondent Holly Williams (watch)
  • Panelists: David Nakamura, Salena Zito, Sahil Kapur and Shane Harris (watch)

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's Sunday, September 1st. I'm Margaret Brennan and this is FACE THE NATION.

There is breaking news this morning as a man goes on a nearly two-hour shooting rampage in Midland and Odessa, terrifying Texans less than a month after the El Paso massacre. At least seven people, plus the shooter are dead and more than twenty injured.

MAN #1: Get down. Get down. Get down.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a scene that's getting more and more familiar.

MAN #2: Here comes SWAT.

MARGARET BRENNAN: With reactions getting quicker.

JAY HENDRICKS: Uh-oh. Okay. So we got to disappear. Hang on. We're going to keep our mics on so we can get you up to date. We're told to get out of here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Hurricane Dorian closes in on the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm. The hard-to-predict hurricane is headed slowly towards the U.S. With millions of Americans potentially in Dorian's path, where will she hit next? We'll have the latest projection.

We'll talk with the top U.S. official overseeing all things Dorian, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Former FEMA Director Brock Long will also talk about what the country can do better to handle hurricane recovery.

Plus, we'll check in with 2020 Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke. He's changed campaign strategy following last month's mass shooting in El Paso.

BETO O'ROURKE: There is no reason that we have to accept this as our fortune, as our future, as our fate, and yet functionally right now we have.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And as always, we'll have analysis on all the news of the day just ahead on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION, where we are covering two big stories this Labor Day weekend. We begin with the shooting rampage in west Texas yesterday afternoon. CBS THIS MORNING lead national correspondent David Begnaud is in Odessa. David.

DAVID BEGNAUD (CBS THIS MORNING Lead National Correspondent): Margaret, good morning. This gunman terrorized two different cities in broad daylight. He first opened fire on police officers and then started shooting randomly at people who were driving on the interstate. Among the dead is a high school student, a seventeen-month-old baby girl was shot. Behind me is where it all ended. That's where you're going to see the police car and the mail postal service van as we zoom in. What happened according to eyewitness video is the gunman, who had hijacked the postal service van, was driving right for a police car when officers opened fire on him. Here's more on how it all started.

(Begin VT)

DAVID BEGNAUD: The gunman at some point ditched his vehicle and hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van, and then he started shooting at people on the freeway.

MAN #1: He's shooting them. He's shooting them.

DAVID BEGNAUD: The gunman was killed in a shootout with police. It happened right outside of a movie theater. Seven people are dead, not including the shooter. Twenty-one are injured. Among the injured is a seventeen-month-old girl who was hit in the face with shrapnel. In total, three law enforcement officers were shot. Seven of the victims are listed in critical condition at a local hospital.

MICHAEL GERKE: This was a joint effort by just a multitude of-- of departments to find this animal and bring him to justice.


MAN #2: Yes.

JAY HENDRICKS: We're going to have to--

DAVID BEGNAUD: The CBS affiliate here in Odessa, Texas was forced to evacuate while they were on the air as police swept the area near one of the crime scenes.

JAY HENDRICKS: Okay. We're going to leave the set. We're going to-- we're going to slip away just for a minute. We don't know what's going on.

DAVID BEGNAUD: There is no word yet on a motive. Overnight law enforcement officers worked multiple crime scenes throughout Midland and Odessa.

(End VT)

DAVID BEGNAUD: You know, it's just about a month ago when we were outside that Walmart in El Paso, Texas, because twenty-two people were killed in a mass shooting there. The state of Texas has some of the most lenient gun laws in the country and just recently state lawmakers passed ten new bills further loosening gun restrictions. Margaret, those new laws went into effect today.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David Begnaud, thank you.

And now to our other major story, Hurricane Dorian has been upgraded to a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane and is now threatening the Bahamas. CBS News climate and weather contributor Jeff Berardelli joins us from New York. Jeff.

JEFF BERARDELLI (Meteorologist/@WeatherProf/CBS News Climate and Weather Contributor): Margaret, this is about as strong as a hurricane can get. In fact, it's in the top ten of hurricanes in terms of its wind. The winds are now up to a hundred and seventy-five miles an hour. This is going to be a catastrophic storm for the northern Bahamas. We're zoomed in. Hurricane-force winds are now moving into places like Marsh Harbour and Abaco Islands. And the strongest winds are just off shore. It looks like it's going to be hitting the northern part of the island. These are the latest stats. And I can't believe how strong these winds are right now. A hundred and seventy-five as it gets close to land. It's moving west at eight miles an hour, and it's actually going to slow down. And this is the most problematic part for the northern Bahamas. It's going to be moving extraordinarily slowly. From today, through tomorrow, through Tuesday, it only covers a little over a hundred miles of territory. It's probably only going to go two or three miles an hour or so. And by Tuesday morning, it's still located over Grand Bahama Island with winds around a hundred and forty miles an hour. The whole time, tropical storm force winds are spreading over the east coast of Florida, and notice the center of this track right here is only about forty miles offshore. Any closer and hurricane-force winds go to the coast. Dangerous surf and flooding is likely. Coastal flooding along the beaches. Then the system kind of hooks right by the middle and end of the week. It could weaken a little bit. But we have to watch out for the possibility of a landfall somewhere in South Carolina, but more likely North Carolina as we head towards the end of the upcoming week. Take a look at these wind gusts. Marsh Harbour, at least a hundred and twenty-seven miles an hour. We're going to see wind gusts likely over a hundred and sixty, hundred and seventy miles an hour. The model just is not able to show it. That's how strong the winds are going to be. And you could see that those hurricane-force winds stay over Grand Bahama Island for thirty-six hours. At the same time, right here along the Florida coast, we're going to see tropical storm-force wind gusts and any closer and hurricane-force wind gusts will spread to places like Boca, West Palm, Jupiter, all the way up to Stuart, as we head into especially the Tuesday timeframe. That's when the strongest winds are going to be. Another aspect of this storm, storm surge, because of huge waves out in the Atlantic. Fifty-foot waves overspreading the Bahamas, the Gulf Stream, which means a lot of coastal flooding as this moves north. We have astronomically high tides the next couple of days because of a new moon. So, this is an interesting one right here. That's how close the system is going to come to Florida. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jeff, it's coming that close. It sounds like there still is a direct threat to the people in Florida.

JEFF BERARDELLI: There is because there is no room for error. This is the European model. And you can see that hurricane-force winds are only twenty miles off the coast of the Palm Beaches, the Treasure Coast and eventually the Space Coast. If this were to go any closer, and again, this is just one-- one model, the European model, but it's a good model, that would put the hurricane-force winds on shore. So you have to be aware of that. We're literally threading the needle. And if the model is wrong by twenty miles, which it could be, that puts hurricane-force winds right along the coast. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Jeff Berardelli, you'll be busy and we'll be watching.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to Florida. And CBS news national correspondent Mark Strassmann who is standing by in St. Augustine. Mark, it looks pretty sunny?

MARK STRASSMANN (CBS News Correspondent): Good morning, Margaret. It does, but here's what people here remember besides all this picture-perfect weather for this weekend. Three years ago, Hurricane Matthew, another Category 5 storm that came up off the coast hit here. This entire area was underwater. On top of that, the National Hurricane Center has a warning for all the amateur storm trackers who live here. A Florida landfall is still a distinct possibility for Dorian. So the blue skies look reassuring, but for how long?

(Begin VT)

MARK STRASSMANN: As Dorian appears to track northward, Floridians wondered whether to breathe a sigh of relief. After days of dire warnings, hurried preparations and last-minute stockpiling. Coastal residents know better than to completely relax. Dorian's heavy winds and coastal flooding are still potential threats as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reminded them.

RON DESANTIS: So Floridians on the East Coast need to be prepared. If you have a plan, stick to your plan. If you haven't made preparations, please do so. We need to remain vigilant. We're not out of the woods yet.

MARK STRASSMANN: Even if Dorian's physical damage ends up being less than expected, its menace has already been costly. Businesses lost millions when tourists fled right before Labor Day weekend, leaving empty beaches and stores. Airport closures and canceled flights will prolong the losses into the week ahead. Utility crews from the north are already en route to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas to help with any power outages. But fewer than two hundred miles off the Florida coast; the northern Bahamas are finding themselves not so lucky. A Category 5 storm now bears down on them. The islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama sit squarely in Dorian's path. Residents were stocking up and boarding up in anticipation of a direct hit.

(End VT)

MARK STRASSMANN: Southeast coastal U.S. States know they could still be in the bull's-eye. South Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency. Georgia and North Carolina are tracking the storm closely. Dorian remains a menace. Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark, thank you.

We turn now to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. He is monitoring the storm from FEMA headquarters here in Washington. Good morning.

KEVIN MCALEENAN (Homeland Security Acting Secretary/@DHSMcAleenan): Good morning. How are you, Margaret?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Very well. What can you tell us about the latest path of what is now a Category 5 storm?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: Right, this storm just strengthened into a Category 5 which means there are sustained winds over a hundred and fifty-six miles an hour. It's now starting to hit the northern islands of the Bahamas, and it's moving slowly westward. It's going to impact those islands pretty significantly and then we expect it to stall out about sixty miles off the Florida coast. That's where most models show it holding for over twenty-four hours before it starts moving in a-- in a northerly direction and staying most likely offshore of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are not projecting landfall in the United States at this point?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: Correct, but that does not mean there's not going to be significant impacts from the storm. We expect to see hurricane force winds lashing the coastline of Florida as soon as Tuesday. We expect a storm surge is going to be significant and concerning as well as a prolonged rain event as the storm makes its way north.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How often are you briefing the President on this?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: Regularly. I-- I briefed him yesterday afternoon. He's going to be here in a few hours with other partners from the cabinet to talk about our preparation. So it's a-- it's a constant cycle and you can hear we've got a very busy operations floor behind me at the National Response Coordination Center with the entire federal government response effort being coordinated with over two hundred professionals trying to be as prepared as possible for any contingency with this storm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know this week that Speaker Pelosi called it stunningly reckless for Homeland Security to have transferred about a hundred and fifty million dollars out of the FEMA disaster relief fund to the border. Are you looking at freezing these funds? I mean how do you respond to this criticism?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: I-- I would say she's badly misinformed about the impact. There will be no impact of the potential reprogramming on our ability to respond to this storm. The Disaster Recovery Fund for major disasters has over twenty five billion dollars in it. We're talking about a hundred and fifty five million in a base level fund. We believe we have fully adequate funding and no money has actually been moved at this point to begin with. So she's not informed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say potential reprogramming and no money has been moved, does that mean you may stop this?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: Well, let me tell you, this is a funding we ask for from Congress in the emergency supplemental. Funding that we anticipated we would need for the humanitarian crisis at the border which has raised concern across Congress. So this is money that we asked for. We didn't receive--


KEVIN MCALEENAN: -- And so we've-- we've identified sources across the department to help backfill that and we're going to monitor that very carefully. We've got to manage two crises at the same time and again we have plenty of funding in the Disaster Recovery Fund.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So are you going to touch this money or not?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: So no money has been transferred at this time. We'll continue to monitor the impacts--


KEVIN MCALEENAN: --we have plenty of funding.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --still go ahead with it?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: Yes, we had to notify Congress back in July of the potential for reprogramming. We do have an ongoing border security humanitarian crisis and that funding was identified as critical to manage that as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So no operational impact, no preparedness impact for you? You can say--

KEVIN MCALEENAN: None whatsoever.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that unequivocally?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: None whatsoever I can say that unequivocally.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The-- the Washington Post and The New York Times I-- I'm sure you saw this week had stories that the President had ordered some land seizures to build his border wall. Is that what you're looking at, land seizures?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: So we-- we're building the wall consistent with federal law. We have a waiver authority for construction, for-- for environmental laws, and other laws. We also have the ability to-- for federal government to buy land and that goes through a regular process through the courts and that's how we're proceeding. And we've been purchasing land for additional border barrier for-- for many months now and that's how we intend to continue progress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you know that one of the concerns and criticisms Democrats are raising is that you are going to be so focused on immigration and the border that it will distract you from the other duties involved with your job including hurricane response, disaster response. How do you respond to that?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: So I'm not distracted and I can assure you the FEMA leadership here is not distracted. We have hundreds of professionals who have tremendous experience in monitoring and responding to storms and they are doing their job right here behind me right now. And I'm here supporting them. We also-- we have a multi mission focus always at the Department of Homeland Security. We're working on the Transportation Security side. We're working on responses to domestic terrorism incidents. So we have a lot going on at the department and we're going to stay focused on all those missions in support of the protection of the American people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how should people be prepared in the zones you are watching right now for this hurricane?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: So they should be listening to their state and local emergency managers and following their instructions. If there's a mandatory evacuation order, they need to respond immediately. If there's a voluntary evacuation order, they should consider it. In the meantime, they need to be prepared. They need seven days worth of supplies: fuel, food, water, medicine if necessary, pet food. They've got to be thinking about all these things so that they're ready for any contingency with this storm.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And those are in the zones you highlighted earlier. Very quickly I want to ask you about what happened yesterday in Texas. Can you tell us anything about what happened in Midland and Odessa? Is the public safe?

KEVIN MCALEENAN: So we're following that incident very closely. It's way too soon in the investigation to jump to any conclusions about what happened or the motivations or why, but we're supporting our state and locals and our heart goes out to the victims and their families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Good luck with the response today. And we will be tracking the storm as well.

We'll be back in one minute with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Don't go away.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We are now joined by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He's here in studio. Good to have you here.

BETO O'ROURKE (2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate/@BetoORourke): Thank you for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we are following what has happened in your home state overnight. You've said Americans have functionally accepted as our fate mass shootings are just going to occur. How would your policies have prevented what happened in Odessa and Midland?

BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah. I'm also thinking about the people in the Permian Basin in west Texas and Midland and Odessa right now. And I want to make sure that we take action on their behalf and on behalf of everyone in this country. Universal background checks that close every loophole, red flag laws to stop people who have firearms before it is too late--if they pose a danger to themselves or someone else, ending the sale of weapons of war, AR-15's and AK-47's. They were designed to kill people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number as possible.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do we know that that was the type of weapon used in this shooting?

BETO O'ROURKE: We don't know, but in El Paso it was a variant of an AK-47 that killed twenty-two people and grievously injured many more. These are weapons of war and they're used as instruments of terror in our country. And so I think in addition to those steps that I just described it is really important that we buy back those weapons of war that are out on our streets right now--millions of them. And also ensure that there is a national licensing and gun registry program. We have in this country more than three hundred and ninety million guns in a nation of three hundred and twenty nine million people. That is a big part of the reason that we lose forty thousand of our fellow Americans every year. And we cannot accept this anymore. We've got to follow the lead of those moms who demand action, the students who are marching for our lives who themselves have announced ambitious plans to ensure that we can protect one another and that our kids don't have to fear going to school or the future of this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in your home state of Texas, about thirty-five percent of people are gun owners. And today even more lenient laws go into effect allowing people to carry weapons into many different places. So do you blame local government there? Because all the prescriptions you're laying out are federal solutions.

BETO O'ROURKE: Yeah. Let-- let's not blame anyone. Let's all take responsibility to make this right. So I've talked to gun owners and non-gun owners in every one of the two hundred and fifty four counties of Texas. They're all there on universal background checks and red flag laws. I was at a gun show in Conway, Arkansas, talking to owners of AR-15's and AK-47's. Some of them were open to a mandatory buyback program. All of them agreed that we have a crisis and an epidemic of gun violence so--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you think public opinion in Texas is changing? I mean in those places--

BETO O'ROURKE: It's there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that have been seen as really--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --impossible to change laws and convictions that are strongly behind the Second Amendment.

BETO O'ROURKE: I remember a woman in Brownwood, Texas, Republican, rural conservative community said I was born with a twenty-two in my hands. But I also have more than twenty grandchildren and I want to know whether you're going to represent them or the NRA. Though she's a gun owner, though she's conservative, she wants us to take common sense practical steps to protect her grandkids, to protect people all over this country. So yes the people of America are there. That leadership-- the-- the courage of our convictions just needs to be reflected in our national leadership, making sure that we're listening to people, not the NRA. People not PACs, people not corporations. When we do that, we will save the lives of people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But for your solutions so far--policy prescriptions, you don't know that it would have prevented what happened in Midland and Odessa.

BETO O'ROURKE: We're still obviously learning the details. Listened to the press conference last night from the chief of police where they were not able to say what kind of weapon--


BETO O'ROURKE: --was used, but I also just watched a video on Twitter of a family that is pinned to the ground, the-- the children are crying. They're all Mexican-American in a part of our country where Mexican-Americans were targeted and hunted for their very ethnicity. People are living with fear, feel like they have targets on their backs right now. Kids are afraid to go to school tomorrow morning. This is not right. Unacceptable. And I won't accept it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you as well though, about the other gathering storm--the Category 5 hurricane that's headed towards the United States. When you look at the kind of federal preparedness we have now, is there something as president you would change about it? Or do you think the system is ready to go?

BETO O'ROURKE: I'm really disappointed that President Trump has proposed taking money from FEMA in the middle of hurricane season for walls or cages or militarization of the border that we do not need. As president I would fully fund FEMA. I would invest in the resiliency of communities in Florida and Georgia, the Carolinas, and Puerto Rico to make sure that they're ready for the next storm because the scientists have told us these storms are only going to become more frequent--


BETO O'ROURKE: --more devastating, and more deadly as the climate continues to change. So the immediate priority is helping those in the path of these storms. But the longer term goal is to confront climate change before it's too late. Free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels and fully embrace renewable energy and get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as humanly possible. No later than the year 2050. We-- we've got to do all of that if we're going to meet this challenge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You rolled out your trade policy this week. New tariffs on China go into place today. Is there a situation where President O'Rourke would ever use tariffs?

BETO O'ROURKE: As a last resort. These tariffs are punishing farmers across this country, destroying markets they've worked their entire lives, maybe their parents' lives as well to open up now lost to them and to their children. We see a tax on the American consumer that averages about nine hundred dollars a household. And we are hurtling the world and this economy into recession. So end these trade wars. No more tariffs. And then work in concert with our allies and our friends: Canada, Mexico, the European Union. A united front against China and any of their trade practices that are manipulative or damaging to the United States--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does that mean something like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --trade deal? You wouldn't re-enter that?

BETO O'ROURKE: No. I-- I wouldn't. I would make sure--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're viewed as more friendly to free trade than some of your competitors.

BETO O'ROURKE: I-- I want to make sure that trade works for us and it works for our farmers and it works for our workers. I want to make sure that our trade deals are used to achieve our goals. I'll give you some examples. I mentioned climate change earlier. This could be the platform for us to get the necessary concessions from trading partners to ensure that we don't warm this planet another degree and a half Celsius. Trade deals could be the platform by which we ensure the dignity of working women and men all over the world, make sure they're paid a fair wage and have working conditions that are safe for them. And it's also a way to make sure that we protect the human rights of our fellow human beings all over the planet. These are our values in this country. Let's use our trade deals to achieve them and make sure that we never do that at the expense of the American worker or the American farmer or the American economy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Beto O'Rourke, good to have you here.

BETO O'ROURKE: Thank you.


We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Coming up next Sunday on FACE THE NATION, former Defense Secretary James Mattis will be here to talk about his new book, Call Sign Chaos, as well as America's role in the world today. That's next week on FACE THE NATION.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of our stations are leaving us now, but we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION. Next up, former FEMA Administrator Brock Long. We'll talk to him about hurricane preparation and recovery efforts, and what can we do better when it comes to dealing with natural disasters.

Plus, our political panel and a Reporter's Notebook from Syria, just ahead on FACE THE NATION.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We want to speak now to FEMA Administrator Brock Long. He left the Trump administration in March, and now he is back in his home state of North Carolina. He joins us from Charlotte this morning. Brock, good to have you on the program.

BROCK LONG (Former FEMA Administrator/Executive Chairman of Hagerty Consulting): Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now we are learning that this is not just a Category 5 hurricane, but it's one of the largest hurricanes ever and particularly for that northwest part of the Bahamas, the strongest hurricane that place has ever seen. How should FEMA be focused right now?

BROCK LONG: Well, unfortunately, there are a few things that scare me. Not only the wind intensity of this storm, but what I really like to pay attention to is the forward speed of the storm and if you notice in this forecast it's-- it's actually forecast to stall and slow down even further. And when that happens I know that the model guidance really doesn't handle storms that well and the track could change tremendously over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. So FEMA's trying to get the word out to anybody from Florida to North Carolina, one, please don't let your guard down because even if the-- the center of circulation travels that left hand side of the air cone, it could bring tremendous hit two to Florida and other states as it passes up through the southeast. But what FEMA focuses on is trying to properly stage incident management teams, logistical support, you know, when it comes to supplies, food, commodities to backup state efforts, and they always want to push as close to the storm as they can without putting people in harm's way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hm. You heard from the Homeland Security secretary that they do not project this storm to be making landfall in the U.S. right now. But what you're saying is you don't think it is that certain.

BROCK LONG: I-- I know that here again when you go back to the forward speed there's a lot of uncertainty in this--


BROCK LONG: --in the track forecast and when a storm basically comes to a halt until it starts to move again the model guidance doesn't typically pick it up. But looking at the model guidance, it is in good agreement that the-- that that storm is going to turn back to the sort-- southeast but we-- we've got to continue to watch it over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours no doubt about it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Now in terms of disaster preparedness and response, FEMA doesn't have a permanent leader, hasn't since you left the job. The Homeland Security secretary is also in an acting position. Does this lack of permanence affect the ability of the agencies to act?

BROCK LONG: It's never ideal to not have a confirmed administrator in the position at FEMA. But, you know, I brought Jeff Bard as well as Pete Gaynor in and knowing that those two guys are back there working with, you know, in control of FEMA. I have great confidence. They're two of the best emergency managers I've ever met and they're actually backed up by twenty thousand of the most battle hardened FEMA staff that's ever existed. I mean these guys have been through it over the last two years. They've been responding to storms and events from across half the globe.


BROCK LONG: You know a lot of Americans don't realize that they responded to the Northern Marianas when they were hit with the strongest storm in history and Hurricane Yutu and they've responded all the way to the Virgin Islands and the East Coast. When we were in office or when I was in office, I had over two hundred and twenty different events. Basically a new event every three or four days and these guys have been truly dedicated, they bust their rear ends to serve other people. And I sleep peacefully knowing that Pete's there, Jeff's there, and the experienced FEMA staff is in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're-- you're praising the leadership, but you have been critical of the agency's functions. Recently, you said that it's "dying a death of a thousand cuts." It's understaffed. You think it could be more efficient, are you--

BROCK LONG: Yeah, I do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --concerned the agency isn't-- isn't adequate to the challenges?

BROCK LONG: Well, I think FEMA faces unrealistic expectations by Congress and the American public and the standards in which we declare major disaster declarations need to be increased. You know, if you look at fifty percent of the disasters that FEMA has historically declared, they are less than seven and a half million dollars. And in some cases, you know, we've got to stop looking at FEMA as 911. This is a partnership. You know, if we want to get better and become more resilient and-- and respond better then we have to refocus the training upon how we ask citizens to be prepared, not just going out and having supplies for five to seven days, but be-- you know, teaching them how to become more financially resilient. Teaching them that insurance is the first line of defense, not FEMA. Teaching them tangible skills like CPR when they face active shooter events. But we also have to bolster state-- state and local capabilities. But more importantly, until Congress starts to incentivize putting building codes in place and land use planning in place, incentivizing states and locals for ensuring their public infrastructure, FEMA's job is impossible. So it wasn't a knock on FEMA. It's just we have to set realistic expectations for the agency and really bolster the capability from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were administrator when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto-- Puerto Rico which you know the Trump administration was harshly criticized for. The solutions you just laid out-- is that what you've learned?

BROCK LONG: Well, the problem-- what made Puerto Rico really difficult is because a lot of the infrastructure rotted and decayed over a period, you know, a long period of time. No doubt about it. And if Americans may not remember, but I had to ask for special authority to actually put funding forward on behalf of FEMA to fix Puerto Rico because of that. FEMA doesn't have the authority to fix infrastructure that's not well maintained.


BROCK LONG: And so when-- when-- when infrastructure is not maintained, the impacts of a hurricane are going to be exponentially worse than what they should be. So, you know, putting Puerto Rico and that issue aside, going forward here again we've got to start electing officials based on building codes and land use planning, and those who advocate that, and building incentives. You know, start providing more funding to the communities that implement, you know, it's-- and implement and uphold stronger building codes because they work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know that you fought for funding for Puerto Rico. I think it's now forty-two billion dollars that Congress has approved to help Puerto Rico rebuild and not all of it's been dispersed, but the President tweeted this week that Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth and said it's really a matter of broken politicians, corruption, and that the money is being sent to crooked politicians. What do you make of the President's comments given that you fought so hard for these-- this funding?

BROCK LONG: Well, you know, I-- I-- I think where-- where the President-- I'm not going to speak for the President of the United States but, you know, having worked with Puerto Rico and we've seen recently that the leadership of the Commonwealth has collapsed. You know, if-- if American taxpayers are going to put, you know, billions and billions of dollars into rebuilding, not only Puerto Rico but other jurisdictions then, you know, Congress really needs to focus on making sure that once that infrastructure is rebuilt that it's maintained for years to come. And I think that's the greatest concern that Congress needs to be focused on. And here again, you know, Hurricane Maria was far greater of an issue than just FEMA's response.


BROCK LONG: And quite frankly, a lot of people inside FEMA including myself believe that we kept Puerto Rico from complete and total collapse.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Brock Long, thank you for sharing your insights with us and we will continue to be covering the storm.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: It's time now for some analysis from our political panel. Shane Harris covers intelligence and national security for The Washington Post, Salena Zito is a column fist for the Washington Examiner, David Nakamura covers the White House, also for The Washington Post, and Sahil Kapur is a political reporter for Bloomberg News. Shane, Sahil, wel-- welcome to the broadcast. Good to have both of you back at the table, as well.

SALENA ZITO (Washington Examiner/@SalenaZito): Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, I want to start off with this storm. The Trump administration obviously faced a lot of criticism for how it handled Hurricane Maria. Is this all-hands-on-deck focus response to that?

DAVID NAKAMURA (Washington Post/@DavidNakamura): It seems to be all hands on deck. You had a good interview with Kevin McAleenan at DHS right there at headquarters. We don't know, though, if the President of the United States is as focused as he claims that he is. He canceled a trip to Poland to stay home and monitor the storm. He sent Mike Pence instead. Pence just give a speech today, but the President yesterday left Camp David where he was apparently monitoring the storm to play a round of golf at his local club. And he's been tweeting this morning about various topics, yes, about the hurricanes. We don't know about other things. The President has-- has politicized rec-- hurricane recovery, very pointedly about Puerto Rico we know.


DAVID NAKAMURA: And so the question of how-- how much he is focused on this remains an open question.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Puerto Rico seems to not be in the direct line of this particular storm. But two years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico continues to be brought up as a political issue, particularly by the 2020 candidates. Why is that? What is the motivation behind it?

SAHIL KAPUR (Bloomberg News/@sahilkapur): It seems like the President's tone has changed on the hurricane as the path of the hurricane has changed. It was first irritation. It was kind of like we're going to have to do another rescue package from Puerto Rico, and he's obviously headed back and forth there. Now the path of the hurricane has changed toward Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and he has taken on a much more somber tone, he is tweeting out alerts by FEMA, he is asking everyone to be careful and to be prepared. Some of this goes back to the fact that the President gets irritated by parts of the country that don't like him and he praises frequently parts of the country that do like him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the candidates themselves, so many of these Democratic candidates have made Puerto Rico even a campaign stop for themselves.

SAHIL KAPUR: Right. And-- and that I think you will see that continue. There is a constituency there that they are trying to speak to, aid for Puerto Rico after the hurricane has been an issue that some candidates, particularly Julian Castro, who is trying to become the first Latino President, has talked about a lot. And I think we'll see more of that going forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Salena, I know you are always-- you have your ear to the ground--


MARGARET BRENNAN: --on this road trip you just did, six thousand miles across the country.


MARGARET BRENNAN: When you see these, sort of, action-oriented moments for the President, does this end up being a political asset for him? I mean, are people as focused on this storm as all of us in the news business are?

SALENA ZITO: Well, I think the people are focused on the well-being of their fellow countrymen. I mean, I think that's the thing that people think about the most. There's a level of expectation in particular with people who did vote for Trump. They didn't always particularly care for his comportment. So-- and-- and sometimes the way he handles things, they are like, please. But they do-- they are obviously concerned about people, you know, where they live, what's going to happen, how it's going to impact them, not just on the coast, but there is going to be major flooding that hits the interior of the country because of this, meaning, places like Tennessee or Alabama or all the way up into Pennsylvania and West Virginia. So there's going to be a broader impact, I think, and-- and so people are paying attention to that. I think there's a level of expectation that Trump is always going to behave the way he does on Twitter. Sometimes it makes them feel comfortable and happy and, like, go get it. Sometimes they are like, come on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Shane, we just did see from the President that he acknowledged the shooting in Texas that happened yesterday. We don't still know much about the motive. What happened? What-- why this shooting happened? But, are we going to re-launch this conversation on a national security basis, on a homeland security basis about gun legislation in a few weeks?

SHANE HARRIS (Washington Post/@shaneharris): Certainly, if there is find-- if we find there's any kind of motive that's connected to domestic terrorism as there was in the El Paso case, yes, I think you would see that debate kind of get reignited again. I mean, here we are, sort of, bookending the month of August with an attack at the beginning and another at the end. And it's another reminder at a time when it seemed like the wind had kind of gone out of the sails of that debate a bit when the President was deferring to Congress. But within the national security community and the homeland security world, there is kind of-- I won't say a renewed focus on gun violence as a possible outgrowth of domestic violence terrorism, but people are starting to make those linkages that I think a lot of people on the operational level have been aware of for quite some time. So if you find that kind of linkage again with the shooting in Texas, then I would suspect, yes, it will be another palpable example.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Salena, Beto O'Rourke on the program argued that even in the state of Texas there is a shift in sentiment, an openness he argues to gun control reform. Is that something you heard on your road trip?

SALENA ZITO: There-- there definitely is. There is a sentiment about needing to do something. And I think people really struggle with understanding what that something is. I think that they believe in-- in conversations that I've had. It does has-- have to do with a different measure, a different sort of barrier to gun purchases by-- or a background-- ground check. But it also-- the people also-- they're really frustrated with how Washington handles it. They don't believe-- they, you know, everyone sort of is yelling at each other. And in the middle is this problem, whether it's guns or whether it's mental illness or maybe it's a combination of all of-- a-- a bunch of different things, but people are really frustrated by just being unable to have this conversation.

DAVID NAKAMURA: But the polls show that, in fact, the majorities of both parties support stronger legislation, including background checks. The President, though, even though he's hinted at different times, including earlier this month and last year during the-- the Parkland shootings in Florida that he was maybe open to just some sort of stronger, much stronger background checks, but he's been lobbied heavily by the NRA as they do each time to pose any kind of new gun laws or restrictions, and the President has seemed to backtrack once again, simply because he seems to really be appealing to his strongest supporters and-- and he's been warned specifically by the NRA that there would be a backlash to anything like this. So as much as there could be talk about stronger gun laws again in Congress, it's very unlikely that anything is going to-- is going to change.

SALENA ZITO: That's true.

SAHIL KAPUR: There'll be growing pressure on-- on Congress to act and one of the reasons that 90/10 issues like background checks can't seem to get through is that there is a fear among Republican leaders that those kinds of attempts will be portrayed in parts of the country and by activists groups like the NRA as an-- as an existential threat to the Second Amendment. It's not about the specific issue. It's this mentality that vast swaths of the country have that any attempt at gun control, no matter how popular, no matter how modest is a step to ultimately taking away their guns. And we've seen a massive shift in the politics of guns, something like thirty points in the direction of stricter gun control since the Obama era as mass shootings become more and more routine, even banning semi-automatic assault weapons, military-style, is now a two to one popular issue in the United States, which we hadn't seen before. Still, prospects for action are dubious right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Shane, speaking of existential threats, we heard from James Mattis for the very first time since he resigned from the Trump administration. He wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay this week that what concerns him right now about the country are not our external adversaries, it's our internal divisiveness. "We all know we're better than our current politics," he wrote, "tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment." I read that not as an indictment of the administration but as an indictment of the American people right now and where we are as a country.

SHANE HARRIS: Yeah. And the political system and sort of a wake-up call to them and trying to summon them to some kind of place where we can, as you said, you know, we're not shouting at each other and really pointing out that there is a real risk to this-- this sort of the secure fabric of the country and to the fragile democracy that we have from this kind of tribalism. You had to read between the lines a lot--


SHANE HARRIS: --on his comments about Trump. You did not on this one. And he also talked about fraying international alliances. The reason that he resigned, of course, he's talked about, that was because he felt that we were backing away from those alliances and also the pullout of Syria. This was remarkable to hear somebody who has spent his career focused on the foreign threats and on protecting the country from external adversaries now turning inward and saying, this is actually the thing that could take us down.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And in his first television interview with our C-- CBS' David Martin, he laid out criticisms of the Bush-- Bush administration in the Iraq war, though he was careful on how he worded it, criticism of the Obama administration not perceiving the threat in the same way from Iran he told David, and in the Trump administration the only criticism we heard so far is what Shane highlighted, not valuing alliances the way he thought was proper. There seemed this expectation or disappointment among some particularly Democrats that he didn't come out swinging--

DAVID NAKAMURA: I think you see--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --at the commander-in-chief.

DAVID NAKAMURA: --I think you see Democrats holding their hopes for, you know, Robert Mueller and James Mattis of-- of sort of coming out and very forcefully advocating for a position against the President and his policies. By resigning he made clear that he doesn't support what the President was trying to do in places in the world, including Afghanistan, but more broadly I think for Demo-- he made it clear that as a military man, he's not interested in-- in impugning sort of a sitting President in that way. And as Shane said, you had to read between the lines in what he was saying. I think, though, this is a time where-- where opponents of the President think you got to take a much clearer stand and that someone like Mattis has that-- that gravitas to sort of break through beyond the partnership to deliver that message. But once he does so, he becomes part of the partnership that he's decrying.

SALENA ZITO: Mattis was-- I think he really nailed it in terms of understanding what's going on in the country. I've-- I've often said, Trump is-- he's not the cause of-- of his presidency, he's the result of people not liking what happened under Bush or what happened under Obama. So they decided to go with sort of this thing, this difference, and I think that is a-- a reflection of that.

SAHIL KAPUR: Yeah, the question is whether, you know, Mattis has something to say and whether he's potentially holding back the values he fought for as a commander for all those years are for private citizens, which he is now to speak about, you know, to speak their thoughts about their government and to be critical he wants to. So I think that's where people are. If you have something to say about the President--


SAHIL KAPUR: --say it. In fifteen months the country is going to decide whether to give him another four years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Someone who did, James Comey. He did say what he thought of the President, and you had him on Twitter sort of saying he was vindicated by this inspector general report, which did not recommend any kind of prosecution and said he didn't reveal classified info. What do we actually need to know about it?

SAHIL KAPUR: Well, it-- it seems like this issue is so entrenched, public opinion is so calcified on the question of James Comey, the Russia investigation, everything leading up to it. The President has galvanized his supporters to doubt this entire narrative and to believe that there is a conspiracy against him. Jim Comey tweeted out that there was no, you know, vindication of-- of his own kind of-- of his own sort that he didn't quite do anything wrong in terms of releasing classified information to the press. So I think everyone's in their corners on this issue. I don't think public opinion changes.

SHANE HARRIS: It's also, I mean, Comey's holding himself out to somebody who is-- he's not denying that he actually broke internal FBI rules, which is what the IG report found, even though (INDISTINCT) real classified information. But he's essentially holding him out as someone, should I saw something wrong that was happening and I decided to do something about it. Now the IG report excoriated him for that, essentially saying that he decided he was the one who could break the rules. It-- it really sort of implicitly cast him as this kind of self-righteous figure which a lot of Jim Comey's critics have said.


SHANE HARRIS: He is very much the opposite of Jim Mattis, he's been willingly casting himself as the voice of kind of sane government that's attacking the President, and it has pushed people further into their camps.


SHANE HARRIS: Jim Comey's not convincing anyone that wasn't already with him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Well, we have to--

DAVID NAKAMURA: You see, Trump-- Trump-- okay.

MARGARET BRENNAN: David, sorry. I have to leave it there because we have a very important report from Syria we have to get to in just a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: On Saturday, U.S. forces conducted airstrikes on an al Qaeda facility in Idlib province in northwest Syria. At least forty militants were reportedly killed. In the last few months, fighting in the province has intensified as the Assad regime tries to regain control of the rebel-held territory. Our Holly Williams traveled there and filed this report for us.

(Begin VT)

HOLLY WILLIAMS: The Syrian regime is trying to bomb Idlib and its three million people into submission. The airstrikes target hospitals, markets, and bakeries. It's a ruthless strategy and makes visiting Idlib nerve-racking, but it's helping the regime and its Russian backers claw back control of the country.

This is one of the main roads in Syria. It goes all the way from the capital Damascus to the north, and that's why regime forces are trying to recapture it.

The town of Khan Sheikhoun straddles the highway and was overrun by regime forces this month. Residents fled in their tens of thousands. The Derwish family lives north of Khan Sheikhoun. And we found them by the roadside. Their most valuable possessions packed and ready to leave. They said the bombing raids had come within two hundred yards of their home.

Where are you going to live? Are you going to have a roof over your head?

(Hayat (ph) speaking foreign language)

HOLLY WILLIAMS: "We don't know where we're going," Hayat told us. You may remember the name Khan Sheikhoun. As journalists, we will never forget it. It was the scene of a deadly chemical attack in 2017 that killed nearly a hundred and horrified the outside world. Abdul Hamid al-Yousef lost his twin babies and cradled their lifeless bodies as he took them to be buried. He told us he joined the Syrian revolution in 2011 only to see his country spiral into civil war.

Could you ever have imagined that Syria would come to this?

(Abdul Hamid al-Yousef speaking foreign language)

HOLLY WILLIAMS: "We took to the streets to ask for freedom," he told us, "and for a better life." President Trump called the chemical attack evil and ordered military strikes on the Syrian regime. But it didn't prevent this merciless air campaign. It didn't protect the people of Khan Sheikhoun.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's our Holly Williams reporting from Idlib. We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. We want to take a moment to say goodbye to FACE THE NATION's senior producer Ed Forgotson, who spent every Sunday morning for the last three years in our control room. He's still going to be working on Sundays, but that's with our friends over at SUNDAY MORNING. Thank you Ed for all of your hard work. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.

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