Trump sud­denly fo­cuses on Puerto Rico, prom­ises visit, aid

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - World -

WASH­ING­TON -Sud­denly, just about all Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can talk about is Puerto Rico.

Af­ter not men­tion­ing the hur­ri­cane-dev­as­tated is­land for days, Trump on Tues­day pushed back ag­gres­sively and re­peat­edly against crit­i­cism that he had failed to quickly grasp the mag­ni­tude of Maria's de­struc­tion or give the US com­mon­wealth the top-pri­or­ity treat­ment he had be­stowed on Texas, Louisiana and Florida af­ter pre­vi­ous storms.

Trump an­nounced that he would visit Puerto Rico and the US Vir­gin Is­lands next week. He tweeted about Puerto Rico's needs. He talked about Puerto Rico dur­ing a meet­ing on tax cuts. He raised the sub­ject at a Rose Gar­den news con­fer­ence with the prime min­is­ter of Spain.

And he at­tended a hur­ri­cane brief­ing. He called a meet­ing of agency heads tasked with help­ing Puerto Rico re­cover, and sent top of­fi­cials out to the White House drive­way to talk to re­porters. FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long de­liv­ered specifics: 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships in the wa­ters around Puerto Rico and 10 more on the way.

Through­out, Trump stressed that Puerto Rico's gover­nor had praised the fed­eral re­sponse, char­ac­ter­iz­ing Ri­cardo Ros­sello as “so thank­ful of the job we're do­ing.”

Six days af­ter Maria struck the is­land, con­di­tions in Puerto Rico re­main dire, with 3.4 mil­lion peo­ple vir­tu­ally with­out elec­tri­cal power and short of food and wa­ter. Flights off the is­land are in­fre­quent, com­mu­ni­ca­tions are spotty and roads are clogged with de­bris. Of­fi­cials said elec­tri­cal power may not be fully re­stored for more than a month.

Trump, who had pro­posed vis­it­ing Puerto Rico ear­lier this month, said that next Tues­day was the ear­li­est he could get there with­out dis­rupt­ing re­cov­ery ef­forts.

His pub­lic fo­cus in re­cent days on other mat­ters, par­tic­u­larly his ex­tended com­men­tary on NFL play­ers who kneel dur­ing the Na­tional An­them, gen­er­ated crit­i­cism that he was giv­ing Puerto Rico short shrift af­ter de­vot­ing con­sid­er­able pub­lic at­ten­tion to storm dam­age in Texas and Florida.

Rep. Ny­dia Ve­lazquez, D-N.Y., said she had been con­cerned that Trump's con­tin­ued tweets about NFL play­ers showed he didn't grasp the sever­ity of the cri­sis. She warned that if he didn't start tak­ing it se­ri­ously, “this is go­ing to be your Ka­t­rina,” re­fer­ring to crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush fol­low­ing the slow fed­eral re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005.

And it wasn't just Democrats.

“The cri­sis for these Amer­i­cans needs more at­ten­tion — and more ur­gency from the ex­ec­u­tive branch,” tweeted Repub­li­can Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a fre­quent Trump critic. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Ru­bio con­curred, tweet­ing about San Juan, “MUST get power crews in ASAP.”

“We have a fun­da­men­tal obli­ga­tion to Puerto Rico to re­spond to a hur­ri­cane there the way we would any­where in the coun­try. #Hur­ri­caneMaria,” Ru­bio tweeted Tues­day.

For any pres­i­dent, there's much to be gained po­lit­i­cally from ably han­dling the gov­ern­ment's re­sponse to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, and Trump is no ex­cep­tion. His ap­proval rat­ings in the most re­cent Gallup track­ing poll ticked up, to 39 per­cent, af­ter his trips to sur­vey dam­age from Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma in Texas and Florida.

But Trump's fix­a­tion on Puerto Rico on Tues­day stood in sharp con­trast to his fo­cus on other mat­ters be­tween Maria's land­fall Sept. 20 and Mon­day, in­clud­ing his fight with the NFL over foot­ball play­ers protest­ing dur­ing the Na­tional An­them. The pres­i­dent has tweeted about the NFL more than two dozen times since Fri­day.

By Mon­day, Democrats, Repub­li­cans and Ros­sello were em­pha­siz­ing that Puerto Ri­cans are Amer­i­cans, too.

Trump was in­tent on show­ing he'd got­ten the mes­sage — but still wasn't ready to set aside the NFL is­sue en­tirely.

“We are to­tally fo­cused on that,” Trump said Tues­day of the grow­ing cri­sis on the US is­land. “But at the same time, it doesn't take me long to put out a wrong and maybe we'll get it right. I think it's a very im­por­tant thing for the NFL to not al­low peo­ple to kneel dur­ing the play­ing of our Na­tional An­them.”

Even as Trump in­sisted he has plenty of time to pri­or­i­tize both is­sues — “All I do is work,” he said Tues­day — crit­i­cism lin­gered.

Par­tic­u­larly galling to Trump's crit­ics were his first tweets since last Wed­nes­day when he urged peo­ple on the is­land to stay safe as Maria came ashore. In a trio of tweets on Mon­day night, he sug­gested that Puerto Rico was suf­fer­ing in part be­cause it had in­curred “bil­lions of dol­lars” in debt to “Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

“Texas & Florida are do­ing great but Puerto Rico, which was al­ready suf­fer­ing from bro­ken in­fra­struc­ture & mas­sive debt, is in deep trou­ble.” Still, he promised, “Food, wa­ter and med­i­cal are top pri­or­i­ties - and do­ing well.”

Rep. Joe Crow­ley, DN.Y., said it was “ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous” for Trump to men­tion Puerto Rico's debt “when peo­ple are suf­fer­ing and dy­ing. Here's a pres­i­dent who's used bank­ruptcy through­out his en­tire ca­reer.” (AP)

The Bri­tish Royal Air Force's (RAF) aer­o­batic team, the "Red Ar­rows", per­forms aerial ma­noeu­vres dur­ing celebrations mark­ing Saudi Ara­bia's 87th Na­tional Day, in Jed­dah on Septem­ber 25, 2017. (AFP)

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