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In-town pool report #4
Annie Karni • POLITICO
April 13, 2017: 03:26 PM


Pool was escorted into the Roosevelt Room at 2:01 p.m. for President Donald Trump's meeting with the I-85 bridge first responders.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was seated across from an empty leather chair, reserved Trump. To the right of the empty leather chair sat fire chief Joel Baker from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. To the left sat Rodney Bryant, assistant police chief of the Atlanta Police Department. In total, Chao was joined by 14 uniformed police and fire chiefs, who set their hats on the table in front of them as they waited for Trump.

Chao made small talk with the group as they waited for the president's arrival.

"He wanted to do it earlier but this was the first opportunity he had," she said. "Just to be here in the room, what a treat."

Later she asked, "does anyone have more history of this room? I've gone blank." She pointed out that there was a "television screen, you can do video conferencing behind there."

POTUS entered at 2:26 p.m., with chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer, who lingered in back, near the door and did not sit down.

"Thank you everybody," Trump said. Two of the first responders presented him with a ceremonial golden-headed firefighter's axe that was on display on a side table. "I like that, I heard about this," Trump said, joking that he wanted to keep it on permanent display in the Roosevelt Room. "This is beautiful."

Trump took his seat at the table, and asked the group to go around and introduce themselves after he finished reading from a prepared statement. He noted the presence of the press pool, saying "they're very famous, it's called the media. They're very honorable people, but you are more honorable, I can tell you that."

Trump read off a sheet of paper in front of him:

"I'm honored to be here with you today and welcome you to the White House," he said. "The heroes who responded to the terrible bridge collapse on I-85 two weeks ago in Atlanta, that was something. The whole world was watching that one. Today we're joined by members of the Georgia State Patrol, the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the Atlanta Police Department -- great people.

"On that day, George State Police and Atlanta Police took fast action to get motorists away from danger. Then our brave firefighters battled 40-foot flames -- which was incredible. What was the reason for those flames, something underneath that was very combustable? Those flames were amazing.

"They pulled back battalion chiefs just minutes before the bridge itself collapsed and everyone was safe. That was an amazing thing, and everyone was watching. Your skill and courage saved many lives, represented true strength and the true strength of America. Really great job fellows, great job.

"To the people of Georgia affected by the collapse, my administration stands with you. We've already made a $10 million emergency relief funds available. I called your governor, who I know very well, he's a terrific guy, I approved it literally the day that it happened. I had a feeling you'd need a little money...I approved it immediately and Elaine took care of it and we took fast action.

"What happened in Atlanta is a painful remind of the critical importance of infrastructure, we're going to be doing a lot with infrastructure in the coming weeks, you're going to see a tremendous amount. We're committed to funding a massive nationwide infrastructure program to repair construct roads and bridges of the future of this country. This is necessary as a matter of safety and economic growth. And it's necessary to improve our quality of life as Americans. We will also continue to seek proper funding for law enforcement and public safety in our country. On behalf of the entire country, Isalute you, really amazing people, and I honor your service. I pledge that you will have the support of the country, the police, fire fighters, first responders, you will always have the support of President Trump, I think you know that very well. I thank you for the hard work and fast action."

Trump then encouraged the group to introduce themselves in front of the cameras noting, "Maybe you'll become a movie star if they like the way you look or sound, you'll become a star."

The group went around and introduced themselves.

"Who's the bravest person in this room, raise your hand," Trump asked. Everyone laughed, and someone raised his hand (could not see who it was).

Secretary Chao then made some remarks, calling the men at the table "true heroes of our country. They demonstrate courage, steadfastness, commitment and fealty to their oaths to serve our communities."

She ran through a timeline of the events. "This fire was reported at 6:12 pm right in the middle of rush hour on March 30," she said. "By 6:20 this team was on site addressing the issue. Gov. Nathan Deal also deserves some credit, he has as a matter of policy pre-positioned state troopers around I-85 to move any traffic incident out of the way. By 7 p.m., the bridge had collapsed, by 8 p.m. these brave men, leaders of their own communities basically had the fire under control. USDOT was on site and worked hand in hand with these great heroes. As you mentioned, $10 million from your administration went out within one hour of the governor making this request. The good story following all of this is also that the repaid and recovery will occur very quickly. You will like it: it will occur under budget and on time."

Trump perked up at those golden words. "Under budget and under schedule. We used to call it ahead of schedule now we call it under schedule."

Trump corroborated his administration's role in the crisis. "Deal did call me immediately he said could you be ready, we're going to need some emergency money fast. We were ready and got him the money immediately. We want thank everyone in the room. Secretary, congratulations."

"Not at all," she said, noting that the assembled police and fire chiefs "were a little apprehensive about meeting you they're just so thrilled." Pointing to the two men seated closest to Trump, she said "these are the two leaders, they both said what an honor it is to be at the White House, to meet with you. You have done the first responders a tremendous honor by honoring them. They're saying you are sending a message to all first responders that you value them."

Trump wrapped up the session with a promise of an Oval Office photo-op. "What we'll do, we'll finish here, we'll talk, we'll go right across the hall to the Oval Office. It is believe, me I've been in a lot of good offices, it is a special office, we'll go over there and some pictures."

Pool was then escorted out and POTUS responded to three shouted questions about the U.S. dropping the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan, I sent in the previous report.

But I left out the first one.

"Did you know about the bomb?" a reporter asked.

"Really another successful job," he responded. "We're very very proud of our military, just like we're proud of the folks in this room, we are so proud of our military it was another successful event."

Pictures, and a full name of participants in the meeting, TK.



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