Trump blasts Puerto Rico; aid package passes
Chief of staff John Kelly says U.S. will stand with islanders
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out at hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico on Thursday, tweeting that the federal government can’t keep sending help “forever” and suggesting the U.S. territory was to blame for its financial struggles.
His broadsides triggered an outcry from Democrats in Washington and officials on the island, which has been reeling since Hurricane Maria struck three weeks ago, leaving an unparalleled humanitarian crisis.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, with whom Trump has had a running war of words, tweeted that the president’s comments were “unbecoming” to a commander in chief.
“Mr. President, you seem to want to disregard the moral imperative that your administration has been unable to fulfill,” the mayor said in a statement.
The debate played out as the House passed, on a sweeping 353-69 vote, a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes assistance for Puerto Rico’s financially strapped government. The 69 “no” votes came from Republicans, including Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico. The state’s two other representatives, Democrats Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, voted for the measure.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the government needs to ensure that Puerto Rico can “begin to stand on its own two feet” and said the U.S. has “got to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy.”
Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria and about 85 percent of Puerto Rico residents still lack electricity; the government says it hopes to have electricity restored completely by March.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the island last week to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the island’s recovery. But Trump’s tweets Thursday raised questions about whether the U.S. would remain there for the long haul. He tweeted, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
In a series of tweets, the president added, “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” He blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and “a total lack of accountability.”
The tweets conflicted with Trump’s past statements on Puerto Rico. During an event last week honoring the heritage of Hispanics, for example, the president said, “We will be there all the time to help Puerto Rico recover, restore, rebuild.”
White House chief of staff John Kelly, speaking to reporters, said the military and other emergency responders were trying very hard to “work themselves out of a job.” Reassuring the island, Kelly said the U.S. will “stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”
As President Trump blamed Puerto Rico for its financial crisis, the House passed a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that includes assistance for the island.