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Transcript: Governor Cuomo is Guest on CNN to Discuss New York’s Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

Governor Cuomo: "We have a crisis now, and that's what the federal government and the political system should be talking about and should be focusing on because it's a real problem. It's life or death."

Fredricka Whitfield: I want to bring in someone who has just witnessed that devastation firsthand. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Puerto Rico Friday to survey the immense damage and also helped to deliver emergency supplies. Governor, welcome back. On the phone with us right now. So many New Yorkers with family ties in Puerto Rico, some even living in New York some part of the year, and then Puerto Rico. Give me an idea of what you saw and why it was so important for you to visit.

Governor Cuomo: Good afternoon, Fred. It's as bad as it looks on television - it's actually worse in person. The damage is widespread. It's all across the island. You have structural damage to homes, commercial buildings. You have flooding that is - still hasn't receded on the island. Flooding brings long-term problems, right? People think it's just water, and then the water leaves. This isn't just water anymore.It's water combined with sewage and chemicals etcetera. So it does tremendous damage. No power on the island. The only power, are facilities that have a generator, and the generators were running low on fuel. So it's a terrible immediate situation that requires assistance form the federal government. And no just financial assistance. We're also going to have to provide capacity there. This is more complicated than providing financial assistance to a state. They don't have the infrastructure. They don't have the contractor capacity, the technical expertise. So it's a dangerous situation today, and it's going to be a long-term reconstruction issue for months.

Fredricka Whitfield: You know we heard the President of the United States say just before Maria hit, to Puerto Rico, we are with you. We will be taking care of you. But you mentioned more federal assistance will be needed already on an island that had significant financial deficit. And when you say it's far more complicated than say, the images we saw out of Houston. People were also in waist-high water, but busses and other means of transport could get people to other nearby Texas cities or even outside of the state. People don't have that option in Puerto Rico. So what ways do you see federal assistance being needed that you don't see as of yet, to help either airlift people out or bring in much needed supplies, especially for a place that my be going months without power?

Governor Cuomo: You are exactly right. First, as you mentioned, Puerto Rico's a terrible financial place to begin with. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. Number two you have the geographic isolation of being on the island. It's not like you can drive to a neighboring state or move with your family. It's not like you can bring contracting crews and utility crews from the surrounding states. They need everything brought to them. The airport was barely functional. Without power, you have no refrigeration. You get into very real, practical problems right away. Food, health, evacuating people from hospitals - and that's where they are now. Yes, it's nice to be with them in spirit, but it's better to be with them in practice. New York has the largest population of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. We have about a million Puerto Ricans. So it's very personal here in New York. They can't get in touch with their family members; nobody knows who's alive and, God forbid, who's dead. So, it's very real to us here. But, the federal government really should be moving and focusing on this. I don't want to get political, but I think this comes before a lot of the issues the federal government is discussing right now.

Fredricka Whitfield: And, Governor, I know we are talking about Puerto Rico and life and death and survival and your observations there, but I do have to ask you about another issue that has people talking. I just had a couple of guests on talking about how the President of the United States is tweeting this morning about the NBA player Steph Curry being disinvited to the White House after his sentiments that he was hesitant to go to the White House with his team, the Golden State Warriors. At the same time, the President in Alabama last night using some, you know, choice words to challenge NFL owners to fire players who kneel in protest of the National Anthem and using - you know, calling them 'sons of b's.' It was my guest who said, "Why isn't the President instead tweeting about the devastation and the people suffering in Puerto Rico and instead making it personal with high-profile athletes?"

What's your point of view on this?

Governor Cuomo: Well it's exactly what we were saying. First of all you can have your own political opinion. That's the beauty of this country. You can have your opinion of people's protest and about what people say. We also have something called the First Amendment, and that is the law and that is we respect and that's what makes us special. That is a conversation that I think is frankly irrelevant or at least secondary to a conversation like what's going on with Puerto Rico right now, where people are suffering, people may be dying. You want to use the power of the White House? Use the power of the White House to help Americans in need, now. Puerto Ricans are Americans. The people of the Virgin Islands - the U.S. Virgin Islands, I was there the week before. That's another terrible situation. They're Americans. Help American citizens. We have a crisis now, and that's what the federal government and the political system should be talking about and should be focusing on because it's a real problem. It's life or death. And I was there and I'll tell you Fred, I've been through - I used to work in the federal government as you know with the Clinton administration. I've been to a lot of emergency sites and hurricanes and floods, etcetera. I know the federal government can be doing a lot more than they're doing now and they can be doing it better and faster. And Puerto Rico is a place that needs it. We have footage on ny.gov of some of the devastation of the island that we took while we were down there. And I encourage people to look at it and wonder why our federal government isn't doing more. We're going to organize in New York and do everything we can, and I think the private sector can help. And a lot of people want to donate. And we're going to coordinate that statewide. But there's no substitute for effective government response, and that's what we're lacking, and these are Americans. That's what we have to remember.

Fredricka Whitfield: The images and the reality on NewYork.gov. And the images we're showing right there, very powerful. We're all praying for the best for our brothers and sisters there in Puerto Rico. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, thanks for your time.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you.