Trump lashes out at Puerto Rico mayor
BRANCHBURG, N.J. — President Donald Trump, spending the weekend at his Bedminster golf resort in New Jersey, attacked the mayor of San Juan on Saturday for “poor leadership” and accused her of conspiring with Democrats to criticize his administration’s response to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Trump blasted Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz in a series of tweets that seemed aimed at deflecting blame for the deepening humanitarian crisis on the island and casting the mounting criticism against him as partisan attacks — from local officials, political rivals and the media.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump wrote on Twitter. In another message, he added that Cruz and other local officials “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
The outburst came as Trump bristled over accusations from local officials that the federal government has not moved quickly enough to provide support and aid amid widespread power outages that have left residents without air conditioning, while food, drinking water and other basic necessities are in short supply in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. At least 16 people have died since the storm struck Sept. 20.
On Friday, Cruz pleaded for additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying at a news conference: “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying . ... We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
In his response on Twitter, Trump cast Cruz’s criticism as “unfair” to the thousands of federal workers his administration says are now in place on the island, and he praised the efforts of the military and other first responders.
Trump spoke by phone in the afternoon with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp and later praised both of them on Twitter.
And Trump reaffirmed that he and first lady Melania Trump intend to travel Tuesday to Puerto Rico, with a possible stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also is recovering from hurricane damage.
“To the people of Puerto Rico: Do not believe the #FakeNews!” Trump wrote on Twitter in the afternoon.
Appearing on MSNBC, Cruz emphasized that she was not trying to be “nasty” to the president and said she remains open to speaking or meeting with Trump.
“I’m fighting to save lives,” she said. “That’s it. This isn’t personal.”
She also made clear she didn’t plan to stay quiet.
“I will always speak my mind,” Cruz told reporters at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. “I don’t give a damn.”
The president’s tone provoked a major backlash among Democrats, community leaders and celebrities who lambasted him for casting blame and appearing insensitive to the suffering of U.S. citizens.
Many of the strongest critiques came from female lawmakers, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“When a hurricane hits, there are no Democrats or Republicans — only Americans, families struggling to survive,” Pelosi tweeted. “Shameful @POTUS can’t see that.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical “Hamilton,” wrote on Twitter that Trump is going “straight to hell.”
Trump’s senior aides struck back, echoing the president’s assertions that the “fake news” media had failed to tell the full story of the administration’s recovery efforts. White House officials distributed an email to news outlets stating that 10,000 federal workers are on the island and that recovery workers have cleared 11 major highways and 50 percent of the major roadways. The military is airdropping supplies to remote regions in the mountains.
Yet the White House’s own statistics showed how much work remains: Just 45 percent of residents have access to drinking water from the island’s pipelines and 49 percent of grocery and big box stores and 60 percent of gas stations have reopened.
Doug Heye, a GOP consultant and former communications director for the Republican National Committee, said he found Trump’s tweets “appalling.”
“He essentially said Puerto Ricans were lazy,” said Heye.
Late Saturday, Trump sought to strike a more positive tone, tweeting: “We must all be united in offering assistance to everyone suffering in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the wake of this terrible disaster.” But he did not relent in his criticism of Cruz.
“Results of recovery efforts will speak much louder than complaints by San Juan Mayor,” he tweeted.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Saturday called for a united focus on the people in Puerto Rico who need help.