tv The 11th Hour With Brian Williams MSNBC October 20, 2017 1:00am-2:00am PDT
times than the average job in russia. >> that's all in for this evening. >> tonight a gold star father who happens to be the white house chief of staff tells his own personal story about the death of his son in an effort to contain a political crisis entirely of the president's making. plus bush and obama, 43 and 44, take the stage at different events and both men take on trump without saying his name. and for his part, our 45th president today unleashed against obama, hillary clinton and his own fbi. the subject was russia. the 11th hour gets underway now. good evening once again from our nbc news headquarters here in new york. this was day 273 of the trump administration, and on this one
day the president's chief of staff, retired marine four star general john kelly, did something he abhors. he talked publicly about his dead son as a gold star father, and so did a service to donald trump. also on this day, former president george w. bush, 43, did something he abhors. he criticized a sitting president, not by name, mind you, but the association was crystal clear. this is now the 4th day in a row we have spoken on this broadcast about the most sacred of presidential tasks, communicating with gold star families after the death of a member of our armed forces. it was a sacred topic and should be and will again, but it's been publicly cheapened to an obscene degree these past few days because of the president's own comparison initially to his predecessors and now he is alleged to have spoken with a military widow. more on that in a moment. that's what brought general
kelly into the briefing room today, a man who looked like he'd rather be 100 other places. he went there to talk about something intensely private to him, the death of his son, first lieutenant robert michael kelly, died in 2010 in afghanistan after stepping on a land mine. he was 29 years old. kelly said he wants americans to know what it means to be a gold star parent, and he started in a dark and clinical place. he started by talking about what happens when a member of the military is killed. >> their buddies wrapped him up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts him on a helicopter as a routine, and sends him home. their first stop along the way is when they are packed in ice, typically at the air head, and then they're flown to usually europe where they are then
packed in ice again and flown to dover air force base where dover takes care of the remains, em balms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they've earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with the casualty officer escort that takes them home. >> the general continued again hoping to put an end to political conversations involving gold star families. their conversations the president started earlier this week. he was asked tuesday why he hadn't heard from -- we hadn't heard from him yet about these four u.s. soldiers killed in niger in africa. and he answered by questioning whether his predecessors called the families of the men and women killed in action during their time. today kelly continued to talk about his son. he tried to protect something
our nation has always held sacred, the sacrifice made on the battle field. >> if you elect to call a family like this, it is about the most difficult thing you could imagine. there's no perfect way to make that phone call. when i took this job and talked to president trump about how to do it, my first recommendation was he not do it because it's not the phone call that parents, family members are looking forward to. it's nice to do, in my opinion, in any event. he asked me about previous presidents and i said, i can tell you that president obama, who was my commander in chief in active duty, did not call my family. that was not a criticism, that was just to simply say i don't believe president obama called. that's not a negative thing.
let me tell you what my best friend joe dunford told me, because he was my casualty officer. he said, kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. he knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. he knew what the possibilities were because we're at war. and when he died, in the four cases we're talking about, four in niger, my son in afghanistan, when he died he was surrounded by the best men on this earth, his friends. that's what the president tried to say to four families the other day. i was stunned when i came to work yesterday morning and broken hearted at what i saw a member of congress doing. member of congress who listened in on a phone call from the
president of the united states to a young wife. and in his way tried to express that opinion. he's a brave man, a fallen hero. it stuns me that a member of congress would have listened in on that conversation. absolutely stuns me. and i thought, at least that was sacred. the only thing i could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this earth. you can always find them because they're in arlington national cemetery. went over there for an hour and that is held sacred in our society, a young man, a young
woman going out and giving his or her life for our country. let's try to somehow keep that sacred. >> our lead off panel tonight, robert costa, national political reporter for the washington post, moderator of washington week on pbs. jeremy peters, "the new york times" political reporter and an msnbc contributor. and eugene robinson here with us in new york, pulitzer prize winning columnist for the washington post. eugene, i watched your coverage in the moment with nicole wallace this afternoon. and i still want to ask you what was that that we witnessed? was that one event? was it five different concurrent events? >> it was a man coming out to speak in three different roles at the same time. he spoke as the white house chief of staff. he spoke as a four star general, and he spoke as a grieving father. the vividness of his description of what happens when a member of the armed forces is killed in action, the shipping of the body home packed in ice, packed in ice, unforgettable, searing and
deeply moving. removed a few hours, these days it's like a few months because as long as we get to ruminate on the news cycle, i'm struck by a couple of things that general kelly actually didn't say. he actually didn't say, for example, that any of the reports of what president said -- president trump said in that conversation were wrong. he seemed to indicate they were right. and second, he didn't indicate that he really had much of an understanding of why congresswoman frederica wilson was there at the time of the phone call. she had known this family for decades. >> uh-huh. >> she was principal of the school that la david johnson's father attended. he was in a mentoring program that she ran. she was a very close friend of the family which had called on her in a time of grief and she was there to be supportive. as was the woman who had raised
la david johnson, sergeant johnson as his mother raised him like a son. they were there. the phone call as i understand was on speaker, which sounded -- the president of the united states called, it's an occasion, it's a moment. and they were appalled at what they heard. rightly or wrongly, they were, and it wasn't intended to deepen mrs. johnson's grief, the widow, but clearly it did. and he didn't -- general kelly didn't seem to quite understand that entire story. >> by the way, myesha johnson, we should repeat, 24 years old, the mother of two little children, two months away from having their third. i want to put back on the screen, the fake news is going crazy with wacky congresswoman
wilson who was secretly on a very personal call and gave a total lie on content. robert, it was speculated today that part of general kelly's message was aimed through the door back around the hall, turn left to the oval office. but clearly from this, it was not the end of the topic. >> that's right, brian. i think gene said it well in the sense that general kelly did not contest the actual exchange between the president and the family that was heard by the congresswoman. and he railed against in a broadway the politicalization of these experiences and interactions. that was the critique general kelly made rather than something about the content of that conversation. >> jeremy, does anything change as a result of today? >> i think, brian, general kelly
did -- made the best of a really unfortunate situation in that he left americans with this indelible image of what happens when an american makes the ultimate sacrifice. and in that sense tried to remove this from politics. i think that where this gets more complicated for the general and for the president is that he inevitably had to bring it back to politics by defending a president who turned this into the blow-up that it became, by attacking the congresswoman, by saying that he had proof that she was lying about the conversation. general kelly found himself in the position that so many of donald trump's aides have found themselves in the past, and that is defending the indefensible. and unfortunately, it mired what would have otherwise been a solemn, sober occasion in
politics. >> we mentioned this at the top. i want to share some of this with our audience tonight. we heard from two former presidents today who used strong words to speak out against division and anger in our politics. president obama campaigned for the first time since leaving the white house for democratic candidates for governor in new jersey and then tonight in virginia. >> at a time when our politics just seem so divided and so angry and so nasty, is whether we can recapture that spirit, whether we support and embrace somebody who wants to bring people together. yes, we can. you notice, i haven't been commenting a lot on politics lately. but here's one thing i know. if you have to win a campaign by
dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern them. >> president bush spoke out forcefully in new york. his spokesman says donald trump was not the intended target, but a source close to bush acknowledged to our colleague and his old communications director nicole wallace, he was aware of how his remarks would be received. and in the current political climate and confirmed that the president drafted the speech himself with the assistance of a couple of trusted aides. >> bigotry seems emboldened. our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. we've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. at times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. we've seen nationalism distorted into nativism.
we've forgotten the dynamism. bullying provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children. the only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them. >> eugene, talk about the power of our former presidents, the most exclusive club in the world. >> it really is. and what an extraordinary day when you hear barack obama, a liberal democrat, and george w. bush, a conservative republican, speaking as one. >> yes. >> two parts of the same speech. that really tells us all, i think, what a departure the trump administration and trumpism at large really is from the american tradition. at least from recent american political tradition, going back many decades.
this is unlike anything we've seen. this is unlike the normal back and forth between republican and democrat -- democratic administrations, between liberal and conservative policies. this is something new and something quite different. >> robert costa, our club of former presidents as we call it, the most exclusive in the world, there's no clubhouse certainly, but there have been de facto rules. and one of them is you let the new guy -- and so far they've all been guys -- get their administration started. you lay back, no matter how fierce your differences. that's another way of saying it took a lot. it takes a lot for these men to speak the way they did today. >> it does, brian. we're also watching in real time the outrage of the political establishment in this country that abides by those norms that we've seen in this country for decades, seen them unravel in front of their eyes when it comes to foreign policy and domestic policy. not only by president trump, but by the people around him, and that's why senator mccain and president george w. bush are coming out and speaking so viscerally about these norms and what they believe are
institutions and values that embody america because steve bannon and president trump and that whole wing of the republican party are trying to tear it down. >> jeremy, you're the guy who gets to hit with the bases loaded since it's baseball season. you get the tough one. to what end? >> to what end? i wish that i could say that this would be an awakening for republicans. there are a lot of republicans i hear saying that privately, but
it's not happening. there is no flood gate that's open, brian, from which republicans are all of a sudden saying, you know what? we are going to speak out against the conspiracy theory mongering and the bigotry that we fear has taken over our party. so, until they realize -- these republicans -- that there is no more political power to be derived from not speaking out against that, they won't do it. and you will be left with people like george w. bush, john mccain, and a handful of others like bob corker who is retiring, people who are no longer in politics, no longer standing for reelection to be the moral voice within the party. >> that was a really depressing answer, but so well told. and i thank you. thank you. sorry about the tone of the questions tonight, gang. our thanks to robert costa, jeremy peters, eugene robinson for being our lead-off panel on this busy day in politics. still ahead, after we fit in our first break, we'll look at the investigation into why u.s. forces are on the ground in nigeria in the middle of the african continent. but up next, two heavily decorated combat veterans of the vietnam war, retired four star general army general barry mccalf friday and medal of honor recipient arnold jack jacobs on what happened today in that white house briefing room when "the 11th hour" continues.
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we're back. and about that appearance today in the briefing room, politico describes it this way. quote, kelly, long reticent of talking about his son's 2010 death, was not thrilled that trump made his personal devastation a political football, said several people who know him. but his boss was in a jam and he decided to come into the briefing room after telling
others, trump was being treated unfairly, and that he hated seeing dead soldiers become a political cudgel. here with us to talk about this tonight, retired four star u.s. general barry mccaffery, wounded many times in vietnam, heavily decorated for his combat actions. he went on to become a battle field commander in the persian of only 72 recipients of the medal of honor for his combat actions in vietnam. both gentlemen msnbc military analysts. jack, we'll start with you. you know general kelly. what did you make of today? >> i think he did as you reported, something he didn't want to do. i would have been happier had he not brought up the subject of
ms. wilson, and then it would have been an absolutely clean delivery. >> the president has doubled down on the congresswoman. >> that's what happens when you make ad hominem arguments. it doesn't get it off the table. it brings it up again and makes it -- and recycles it and makes it much more difficult to get rid of. >> was he as good representative for your beloved armed services? >> he said a really couple interesting things. they revolve around the wide gulf that exists between the people who are serving and the people who are being served. he asked whether or not anybody knew a gold star family. we'll go deeper than that. i think the statistics prove that most americans do not know anybody in uniform. i think that's a dangerous thing and i was glad that general kelly brought it up. >> you used to say to me, you could go door to door and go to 250 houses in this modern era before you found a family, on average in the united states, connected to the military. >> i could do the math. i could do my third grade math, that's all. >> john kelly is one of the
finest people i've met in my life. i agree with jack, i'm sorry he brought the congresswoman into it. look, i just went to the dedication of a memorial at fort benning, missouri, to the empty museum of the nearly 7,000 killed in action fighting in the global war on terror. 60,000 killed and wounded, a thousand women killed and wounded. this has been an ongoing pretty intense combat action for a small number of people, as jack points out. some of them are 10, 15 deployments. i think this entire notification process, the letters from the secretary of defense whether handwritten or hand signed or auto signed has gotten turned into a political disgrace. i'd rather see the sergeant major of the army or the marine corps welcome these fallen
angels home to dover. the president shouldn't be calling these people, for god's sakes. so, president trump is an inartful guy. he's not good at this sort of thing. inhe called out of a sense of obligation, tried to do the right thing, it didn't come off the right way. they ought to stay out of it and let the armed forces take care of our people. >> do you feel that the president should avoid these phone calls with all presidents or just this president? >> all of them. i mean, again, 7,000 killed in action, vietnam, 59,000 killed in action. world war ii, 440,000 killed in action. of course we don't need the chief of state to call each individual family. my brother-in-law was killed in action. jack and i have dozens of people
that were important to us that were killed in action fighting in one of these wars. my students out of west point in the ongoing war. i think this has turned into a political charade. the cameras, who looked appropriately pious at the event. by the way, these families are devastated, are vulnerable. at fort benning, we had a gold star brother and a gold star mother talk and it was really very difficult to listen to the sense of loss. but they're buoyed up when they lose these tremendous men and women by the love and support of the armed forces and their family. the president ought to have an annual breakfast. he ought to write letters clearly, but we've got to get the politics out of this process. it's disgraceful. >> jack, was today about the chain of command? >> well, i think it was. i mean, he is the chief of staff and he is representing the president of the united states at a time when the president of the united states probably shouldn't be talking about any of this. >> general, i'll let you speak for members of your own family in military service. but were you surprised to hear general kelly say that his son
was on a 5th deployment, usually unusual when the son or daughter of a notable person stateside is serving? was on a 5th deployment, usually unusual when the son or daughter of a notable person stateside is serving? it's usually kept fairly quiet. >> i think he's angry, you know. i think he's fed up with a lot of things that are happening. he's very protective of the armed forces, starting with his own son, of course. this is a very sensitive issue to every -- not just to the families who have lost their
loved ones, but everybody in the armed forces, you know. they're still engaged. there's no healing that goes on. people just finally get it in context. i think john kelly was angry. he didn't like the way the thing was being played out. i'm sure that, you know, the president's words were inadequate or triggered some reaction, but this shouldn't turn into a long discourse about, you know, who said what to whom. we ought to stay out of this thing for god sakes and let the military bring them home and turnover their family. thank you both, general barry mccaffery, colonel jack jacobs. another break for us. coming up, what are u.s. military forces doing in niger in africa?
senator, on the niger mission, what does the committee need to know in terms of details? >> everything. everything. >> can you be more specific? >> everything. >> what steps are you taking, senator, to get to the bottom of this? what steps are you taking -- >> may require a subpoena, but i did have a good conversation with general mcmaster and they said they would be briefing us. we have a long friendship and we'll hopefully get all the details. >> do you feel the administration has been
forthcoming up to this point about what happened there? >> of course not. >> in plain english that's a former p.o.w. in the middle of chemo and it doesn't seem like he has a lot of time for delays. senator john mccain is not satisfied with the white house explanation about what led to the deaths of four u.s. service members in niger on october 4th. sergeant la david johnson's body was not recovered until two days later, and now two weeks later it's still unclear how the events unfolded. exactly who was involved. in a rare public statement today, defense secretary james mattis cautioned the pentagon isn't intentionally withholding anything. >> we in the department of defense like to know what we're talking about before we talk and so we do not have all the accurate information yet. we will release it as rapidly as we get it. >> let's talk about this tonight
with an expert who we should caution you was not shooting a commercial for scotch tonight. he was at a uso benefit in washington and we're happy to have kevin barron. one of the journalists plugged in at the department of defense. nbc national security analyst. kevin, what's the mission in niger as you understand it? >> well, the mission in niger is similar to the same mission in dozens of countries around the world. it's security force assistance. it's simply americans training local forces, local militaries to be better.
it's something that goes on so much and so many places, most americans don't have a clue or they take it for granted perhaps or they don't need to know. niger was one of these places where these kinds of missions, you know, small groups of americans with local forces happen all the time. and so an image like this with death attached to it. >> for those of us who don't have a parent, son or daughter in the fight, but those of us who are concerned about those americans who do. >> this is what americans do in places like indonesia and malaysia and asia. they do it in thailand. they do it in mali, throughout the middle east. most americans might know the example of what went on in iraq and afghanistan or what still goes on there. the idea of not having to send thousands of americans to fight and instead using special operations forces and conventional forces mixed in to do this job. it's really the traditional job of green berets from vietnam. that's how people may have any reference historically to train
local force s to do fighting for themselves. >> there is another prong here and that is private contractors. we have seen their role in the carrying out of our wars rise over the years, and i want to hear you out on this because civilians who haven't dialed into this topic may have been surprised to hear secretary mattis today talk about contract air carrier to get evacuees out of there. isn't this a coming fight about contracting out more and more of our military tasks to private contractors? >> i don't think it's a coming fight, but it's definitely a moment to pause and ask that question again and examine it. so, the reason the u.s. military and the united states government uses contractors is because they don't -- that way they don't have to use as many forces. contractors are specialized, most of them are veteran troops themselves. if they're not military, then they're intelligence. they're cia and so a lot of these operations are a mix. contractors are working side by side. i think it's -- most people should think a little different than mers nehr -- mercernaries which has a negative tone. they are basically troops out of
uniform, they serve with the same sort of sense of duty and mission and purpose and regulation alongside american forces in the military and in the intelligence community. so, that's no surprise to those of us who know, you know, these operations. >> because of that dome behind you, because you're in washington, this has already been politicized, and we are hearing people in the media -- we have for the last couple of days -- say what happened in niger when we know everything after the investigation is going to, quote, turnout to be another benghazi. your opinion on that? >> you know, i really cringe at another benghazi. we don't have time to talk about
are you ready? it's a big subject. if the mainstream media would cover the iranian scandal and that russia has 20% of their uranium, for whatever reason, and a lot of people understand what those reasons may be, i think that's your russia story. that's your real russia story, not a story where they talk about collusion, and there was none. it was a hoax. >> president trump today in the oval office, by the way, sitting
next to the governor of puerto rico picking up on this thread, he started this morning on twitter. uranium deal to russia with clinton help and obama administration knowledge is the biggest story the fake media doesn't want to follow, he continued, workers of firm involved with the discredited and the fake dossier take the 5th. who paid for it, russia? the fbi or the dems or all? quoting fox and friends, russians sent millions to clinton foundation. for more please join us, anita with mcclatchy. explain to our viewers why they're going to hear more on this russia -- this uranium scandal, that's the quote from the president, how it is we know anything about it and how big a deal this is. >> well, i have to say that he is wrong about one thing. we covered a lot about uranium during the campaign. this is a deal that took place during the obama administration when secretary clinton was secretary of state and the administration approved of it. but what he has forgotten is that we wrote tons of stories
about this when she was a candidate for president. she is not president. so, things aren't -- they're not being covered as heavily any more. we are going to hear about it because chuck grassley, the chairman of the senate judiciary committee says he wants to look into this issue because the newspaper the hill wrote about issues with that deal many years ago. they wrote about how there were all sorts of kickbacks and bribery and that sort of thing. there will be an investigation and people will be hearing more about it. >> anita, i'm not being flip here, but how is it he starts his day on this subject of uranium and russia? does his twitter use continue to mirror the programming in the morning on fox and friends? >> i think it does. i think he's obviously watching tv and he's tweeting. but, you know, i had someone tell me last week that's very close to the president that you always think it's that he's watching tv. sometimes it's just that someone has walked into the room, obviously not probably not that early, but walked into the room and reminded him of something.
it might have been something that happened weeks or months ago. and somebody says, remember that thing about hillary clinton months ago, and then he's off on a tangent on twitter again. just sort of interesting. >> do you think he realized that the fbi that came in for an allegation on twitter this morning is the very same fbi that's under his command now as president? >> i know. this reminds me of what happened at the beginning of his administration when he kept talking about bad intelligence and he was really demeaning to the intelligence community that he was now in charge of. here we are, it's so easy to sort of dismiss these tweets by president trump because there are so many of them. but that truly, that one today was extraordinary. i mean, these are the people that work for him that are protecting americans, protecting the country, and it's so demoralizing to them to basically -- he's basically saying they're colluding. they're colluding with democrats to be against him.
>> and anita, finally his tweet tonight. i'm not communications director in the white house and have no interest, but it sure seemed to us that the kelly event, no matter what you want to say about it, no matter what your take away was, was intend ed to be the period at the end of the sentence. >> right. >> perhaps an attempt at the end of that topic. and the president has now doubled down going against the florida congresswoman, secretly on a very personal call, gave a total lie on content. >> right. it's really hard for him to have the period at the end of the sentence. we often think at the white house that this is it, this is their response about something, and then he'll come back with another tweet the next day or the next week and we're all back to where we were before. >> our lightning round tonight with our friend anita kumar. >> another break coming up. we'll talk about what we've seen this week from this president on the solemn duty of comforting
we are so for the nat to be joined here tonight by our friend the celebrated author and presidential historian michael beshlos who once again got our attention on his at which time feed this week by quoting lincoln 's second inaugural address about the commander in chief and those who lost their lives serving our country and their families. here is the quote, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow. michael, did you ever believe that this part of the job of president of the united states would become so politicized, so toxic as david axelrod called it and jacob
called it this week, so obscene and we would see an event like that in the white house briefing room today? >> i never thought i would see anything like this because, to use a word that was used today, it really has been sacred. you know, some of the moments in presidential history that show us the most about the souls of our presidents have been when a president deals with those who have fallen. you know, for instance, brian, you and i knew lady bird johnson and she once wrote in her diary, i'm not sure if linden should be commander in chief. he gets so torn up over the deaths of americans under his command and having to talk to the families.
them would break that rule that's been an ironclad rule of modern former presidents and without mentioning his name come out and speak against him as we saw president bush 43 and president obama did today. >> and as i was listening to secretary kelly, who grew up in boston, religion used be sacred, life used to be sacred and gold star families. let's see we agree with most of that list, how do we go about we the american people, the collective, making things sacred again. >> i think maybe the place to begin is gold star families and
begin is gold star families and the relationship between the president and the family of someone who has fallen. the most sacred thing an american president can do is send an american in harm's way and if that american dies as a result of a decision that a president makes, one of the most important thing the president does is as you were saying at the beginning of the segment, brian, as lincoln put it, to comfort the widow and comfort the orphan. think one of the ways we have to judge a president in realtime is how he does that. >> do you worry that only 1% of our population fights the war for all of us? >> i sure do. we make different decision when is we know that the people have to fight these wars are such a small percentage. and the other thing is that the military tends, you know, i was so struck by what you and jack jacobs were talking about.
one result of this is if you and i walk down let's say connecticut avenue in washington in the year let's just pick a year, 1949, you know, we were after world war ii, you would have seen a lot of people in uniform walking down the street from every branch. you know, how often would see that nowadays? >> that's a great point to end on, our friend, the great presidential historian michael beschloss. michael, thank you as always. >> thank you, brian. >> a final break coming up, the president gives himself a grade on the government's relief efforts in puerto rico. that when we come back. hi, i'm the internet!
you know what's easy? building your website with godaddy. get your domain today and get a free trial of gocentral. build a better website in under an hour. last thing before we go tonight, it's been a month and a day since puerto rico was demolished by a hurricane. today the president hosted the government of puerto rico, a man who represents the 3.5 million american citizens on the island. it was one of those oval office photo ops and when asked, the president told the governor how great the federal response has been. >> mr. president, between one and ten how would you grade the white house support so far?
>> i'd say it was a ten. we provided so much so fast. helicopters that weren't even meant for this purpose all of a sudden are delivering food and services. i would give a ten. >> the president could not talk today about the effort to reopen roads on puerto rico without pointing out some of them were in bad shape before the hurricane. the reality in puerto rico, of course, is something else entirely compared to the message we heard in the oval office. a doctor volunteering there said this week, quote, reality here is post-apocalyptic. today a business owner in the beautiful section of town in old san juan told nbc news it's a ghost town. it's dying little by little. some especially impoverished towns have yet to be reached by fema and they've yet to received aid. and many people are greeted by people running at them desperately asking "are you
fema"? and it goes on as it does in st. john now four weeks and two days since that storm. that is our broadcast on a thursday night. thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from nbc news headquarters here in new york. coming to the president's defense in heart felt remarks. white house chief of staff talks about his own loss and criticizes one florida lawmakers comments about the president. pentagon launching formal investigation into niger ambush that killed four american soldiers. growing calls for the hearings on capitol hill. today's marks one month since hurricane maria devastated puerto rico. about 25% of the island has power. president continues to praise federal response. good