The Trump administration on defense over Puerto Rico

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," September 28, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET): The president has shown again you don't give a damn about poor people, you don't give a damn about people of color. A SOB that rides around in Air Force One is denying services needed by the people of Puerto Rico. I hate to say it that way but there's no other way to say it.

RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICAN GOVERNOR: The reality is that the administration and the president, every time that we've spoken, that I've asked, they have delivered to us. This morning, late last night I asked for a waiver on the Jones Act. And late this morning the president accepted that waiver.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Two very different takes on the federal response to Puerto Rico, Russel Honore and the current governor of Puerto Rico. This as the president tweeted today, "The electric power grid in Puerto Rico is totally shot. Large numbers of generators are now on the island. Food and water on site." As you take a look at our new poll, FOX poll on the president's handling, approval, disapproval. And on the top of the chart, hurricanes, approve 60 percent, disapprove 31 percent. You can see the other issues there, health care wrapping out on the bottom, upside down 35 to 58.

With that, let's bring in our panel: Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano; Amy Walter, national editor for The Cook Political Report; and Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner.

What about the response in Puerto Rico? You heard the interview with Tom Bossert and what they are doing and what the tough thing is to get the material through the island of Puerto Rico.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: I've been watching this all day and even on some of the other networks. I am fixated with Geraldo Rivera who just is living amidst this and is painting a very, very bleak picture.

I think that General Honore, who of course was in charge of the rescue efforts in Katrina, was unduly harsh and personal with respect to the president. But there is the perception, and it is based upon on the ground reporting by Geraldo and others, that the president is more interested in other things, certainly was more interested in Irma and Harvey, than he has been in the catastrophe that has become Puerto Rico.

Can he recover from this? Yes, he can. He's had a very bad week because of domestic political events, but sticking to the Puerto Rican story, the impression is too little, too late, too below the radar screen for this White House.


AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yes. And I think it started again, with the first tweets that came from the president seemed to put a lot of the blame on Puerto Rico itself, the talk about this is a country -- Puerto Rico itself, not a separate country, of course, but it's a territory that is struggling. It has bankruptcy. It has problems with its infrastructure. And then it was only after that that the discussion turned to here is the help that we are giving.

There are some logistical challenges to getting aid to an island. There's no doubt about that. But the challenge, this is what President Bush found and this president is finding as well. When people are reporting from these scene and you with your very own eyes as a viewer can see just what it looks like to be there, you instantly ask why the government isn't doing a better job.

BAIER: Yes. First of all, I think Twitter loses nuance.


BAIER: And I think he was trying to perhaps say that the big problems in Puerto Rico are multiplied exponentially because of the situation they had prior going in. Understood the implication there. What they are doing now, is it getting enough to balance out with the feeling is on the ground as far as the public sentiment about Puerto Rico?

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Clearly not, people who are needing help and aren't getting it. Obviously they are not getting what they need.

But I don't think the White House fully appreciated the incredible logistical nightmare that this actually is. And obviously there have been efforts. We see all of these containers that are piling up that have not been distributed, but they got there. So I think clearly it took a few days to realize that this was something beyond the capabilities of a normal response. And this is most important because of the substance of it. People need help.

But politically that number you showed was really quite impressive, 60 percent of the people approve of Trump's handling of the two earlier hurricanes. That's 11 percent more than any other topic for him.

WALTER: Yes, but I think, to that point, that was for the earlier hurricanes. I'm very curious to see what those numbers are a week from now when we ask that question.

BAIER: Let's turn to taxes. Here's the vice president and Gary Cohn and some Democrats talking about tax reform.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Before we get to Christmas of this year, we are going to pass the largest tax cut in American history, and we are going to get America going again.


GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We think we can pay for the entire tax cut through growth over the cycle.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: If you use that funny kind of math at Goldman Sachs the way he's using it here in Washington, he would've been kicked out of that firm a long time ago.

COHN: Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut.

SCHUMER: Please. Let's have some honesty.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, R-LA.: Lying is a growth industry around here. I really like Chuck, but when it comes to tax reform, our bill, he is going through a phase. It's called brain dead.



BAIER: All right, some thoughts about taxes as we start to get the details, they will be worked out on Capitol Hill, Judge.

NAPOLITANO: This is one of the major events that Donald Trump has been waiting that he pushed during the campaign. They did not succeed, as we all know, try as they did with respect to the Affordable Care Act. He promised a huge tax cut, one that would cause a sort of reshaping of the tax landscape. I was hoping for the postcard size tax return, and apparently that will be the case for many Americans but not for all of us.

Do I like everything in there? No. Do I like the concept, the principle of a huge tax cut so as to regenerate the economy? Absolutely. Do I think it will pass? Yes. I think even my small government buddies in congress, particularly in the House who do not want to be the deficit increase will vote for this tax cut.

BAIER: And the Freedom Caucus has already kind of sign-on but we don't know the details yet.

YORK: The problem with this is the whole discussion is hypothetical. If you listen to Gary Cohn today, he said we are going to cut middle-class taxes, although people were coming up with scenarios under the framework in which this or that middle class family would pay more in taxes.

BAIER: State and local deductions.

YORK: Exactly. If you take the seven brackets down to three, where are the lines between those brackets? The child tax credit, how much is that going to be? He's going to have to come up with a lot more to satisfy a number of conservative Republicans who want to make up the gap and want it to be family friendly as. So the problem with this discussion now is everything is on the level of hypothetical.

BAIER: And quickly, because I want to save it for Secretary Price's panel on the second panel here, but Amy, that is the question. We could see a lot of changes in this thing from the original rollout. The death tax could not be totally eliminated and perhaps, who knows, a one percent payroll tax cut, something could be put in there that hits the middle class more than it does now.

WALTER: And this is the other challenge which is what Republicans had going into the health care debate. There are mixed messages coming from Congress and from the president. Nobody really sold it. All the discussion was really process oriented and really focused on getting individual members to vote for it. Nobody sold it to the public. This is going to take an effort not just getting the votes but making the case that this is going to help regular people. And when it comes to taxes, people know it instantly, right. You're going to get your tax bill and you're going to know whether you got a cut or whether you got an increase. You can't just spin your way out of this.

But being able to make that case, Democrats being against this are going to be unified in their message. They can be very disciplined on that. Can Republicans be disciplined in selling it?

BAIER: And 88 percent want small business and middle class to get tax cuts.

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