On Wednesday, CNN journalist Chris Cuomo interviewed Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. The focus of the interview was on the President’s visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday and some statements he made while there, including that the U.S. territory’s debt will need to be “wiped out”.
During the interview, Cuomo asked Mulvaney if the statements made by the President should be taken seriously on its face. In his response, Mulvaney stated: “I wouldn’t take it word for word for that. I talked to the president about this at some length yesterday as we flew home on the air force one, and what we are focusing on right now is what you and I just talked about, which is the primary focus of the federal effort is to make sure the island is safe and that we are rebuilding the island.”
Walking back the President’s comments, Mulvaney remained on point stating that “the island is at least $72 billion in debt, $120 if you will by other counts before the storm. We are going to focus our attention right now on rebuilding the island and repairing the island, making sure everybody is safe and we get through the difficult times. We are not going to deal with the fundamental difficulties Puerto Rico had before the storm.”
In an attempt to inform the public about the debt restructuring process, Mulvaney stated: “By the way, and not many folks have not talked about this yet, a lot of those issues are already dealt with through previous legislation called PROMESA. So the status of the bonds the you heard the president mention this morning are actually inside the bounds of the PROMESA proceedings right now. So those bonds are being dealt with, were being dealt with before the storm, will be dealt with after the storm through the PROMESA process. Our focus will be entirely on rebuilding the island and making sure people are safe, and that Puerto Rico can get back on its feet.”
In conclusion, Mulvaney provided a path for the future: “I think the president knows that in order for Puerto Rico long-term to fix itself, it’s going to have to deal with that debt situation… The country excuse me the territory was poorly run for very a long time. Right now they are paying their pension payments, the pension that comes due at the end of the month, out of their operating accounts. This was a very badly mismanaged island for a long time. I don’t think I’m making news by saying that. And I think what you saw the president talking about was his acknowledgment that Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out a way to solve that problem in order to fix itself going forward. We will help Puerto Rico rebuild from the storm. Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out how to fix the errors that it has made in the last generation on its own finances.”
In addition, on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a brief statement about the continuing efforts to help Puerto Rico. In her initial statement, Huckabee Sanders stated that “Vice President Pence will be traveling to Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. He will meet with survivors, local officials and first responders, and personally assess the massive recovery efforts. The federal government continues to provide much-needed personnel and supplies to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands”
In addressing the past comments made by the President regarding the debt, Huckabee Sanders stated the following: “Right now, the primary focus is to provide relief to Puerto Rico and support in the rebuilding efforts. While we’re still dealing with the immediate disaster, it isn’t inappropriate to focus on the difficulties that Puerto Rico was dealing with before the storm. There’s a process for how to deal with Puerto Rico’s debt, and it’ll have to go through that process to have a lasting recovery and growth. This is a process that was put in place and set up under Obama. And that has a board of advisers that deals with that debt. And it’ll go through that process as we move forward.”
Both Mulvaney and Huckabee Sanders clarified the President’s comments by stating that the primary focus right now for Puerto Rico is to support the rebuilding effort. Addressing the “wiping out of the debt” comment by the President, both were adamant in explaining that there is a process already designed to deal with the debt, PROMESA, and it will continue to go through that process.