Brock Long, an administrator with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, confronted MCNMC's anchor during an interview on Wednesday regarding the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and preparations for the landfall of Hurricane Florence.
MSNBC's anchor Andrea Mitchell aimed a jibe at FEMA, citing a recent claim from Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. He claimed on Tuesday that the Trump administration had diverted roughly $10 million from federal agencies, including FEMA's response and recovery money, to immigration enforcement efforts led by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The FEMA chief, however, dismissed the claims; he accused the senator of "playing politics on the back of Florence" and detailed that the funds in question could not have been used for disaster relief purposes because of appropriation rules.
"Right now, that money has nothing to do with what you see behind me," Long said of the story, pointing at the FEMA employees sitting behind him. "It does not pay for this response, it is not coming out of the disaster relief fund, it has no impact on our efforts to be prepared in Florence."
While admitting that the category four Hurricane Florence, which is approaching the American coast, is going to bring devastation to North Carolina and Virginia, he insisted that "it takes more than FEMA" to appropriately handle natural disasters.
"The fact is," MSNBC's anchor Andrea Mitchell said, "just as after Katrina, where there was infrastructure in parts of New Orleans, that is a federal responsibility. These are American citizens."
"Uh, no, you're actually wrong on that," Long replied. "It's not a federal responsibility to upkeep the infrastructure. Actually most of the infrastructure in this company is owned by the private sector."
Mitchell went on to claim that just 75 of 2,341 requests for emergency fuel assistance have been approved for Puerto Rico as of July 30 because of red tape. Long hit back by saying that his agency delivered over $2 billion worth of commodities into Puerto Rico after the storm, but that grocery stores and retail providers have to help with the recovery as well. FEMA shouldn't be considered "the only responder," he added.
The anchor then hinted that FEMA spent a substantial amount of money on what she called "funeral benefits," which Long explained by a large number of casualties that occurred post-storm from a lack of infrastructure or accidents during repairs.
"The indirect deaths for any event are typically greater in many cases," Long said, citing people who died after falling off their roof, in car crashes, in chainsaw accidents, and while cleaning up rubble.
On Tuesday, mandatory evacuations started in coastal areas in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. Those states, along with Maryland, have all declared a state of emergency in order to mobilize resources in advance of the storm.
Florence is expected to make landfall somewhere along the southeastern United States, likely near the border between the Carolinas, late Thursday or early Friday.