While Todd asked the question, Long swiveled in his chair and looked down and up before returning his gaze to the camera. “Secretary Nielsen has never asked me to resign,” Long said, adding that they have talked every day during the current hurricane threat. While the agency might need to clear up policies about using official vehicles, he said, he responded vigorously when Todd asked if he planned to resign: “No. No, no, no, I'm here to serve my country every day. That's all I do.”
On Face the Nation, Long once again said he was never asked to resign. “Secretary Nielsen and I talk every day. We have a very professional, functional relationship. We are both focused on Floyd right now,” he said, repeating the same mixup he made at a Thursday news conference when he referenced the September 1999 hurricane that, like this year’s Florence, also hit the East Coast. Floyd was something a formative experience for Long, whose LinkedIn profile shows that he started that month as a statewide emergency planner in Georgia, which National Weather Service records show narrowly avoided the disaster. Still, it was awkward on Face the Nation for him to get the name wrong again, like a politician on the stump greeting voters in the wrong city.
He avoided questions about his future on Fox News Sunday but had to walk a tightrope regarding President Trump’s war of words over how many Puerto Ricans died because of Hurricane Maria last fall.
Host Chris Wallace referenced Trump’s claim in a tweet that the latest academic study by George Washington University finding nearly 3,000 excess deaths in the six months after Maria made landfall was a partisan Democratic effort to make him look bad. “Simple, factual question,” Wallace pressed Long. “Do you dispute this number of 3,000 hurricane-related deaths?”
Long equivocated: “Well, there are several different studies that are all over the place.”
It’s true that different assessments with different methodologies yielded different results, but Wallace had pointed out that Puerto Rican officials accept the George Washington University study, many more than the previous count of 64 deaths due to the storm’s immediate effects.
Long tried to point out the nuance in counting deaths due to a natural disaster, citing “a difference between direct deaths and indirect deaths.” As The Washington Post explains, the GWU study compared the number of deaths in the half-year after landfall compared to the typical number of deaths that time of year, seeking to measure the effect of power outages, missing medical care, water shortages and disease. This number of hurricane-caused deaths would be much higher than the deaths caused directly by wind and flooding.
He repeated those talking points almost word for word on both Meet the Press and Face the Nation, also trying to take his agency out of the numbers fight by stating that FEMA doesn’t do its own death count, aside from tallying the number of “funeral benefits” paid for disaster victims.