Tweets rekin­dle Puerto Ri­can ire

Can’t keep FEMA, mil­i­tary there for­ever, Trump posts

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by An­drew Tay­lor of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Philip Rucker, Arelis R. Her­nan­dez, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Ed O’Keefe, Joel Achen­bach and Mike DeBo­nis of The Wash­ing­ton Post; and by Peter Baker and Luis Ferre-Sadurn

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sug­gested again Thurs­day that Puerto Rico, dev­as­tated by two hur­ri­canes last month, bears some of the blame for its cur­rent cri­sis, and warned that there are lim­its to how long he will keep troops and fed­eral emer­gency work­ers on the is­land to help.

Puerto Rico has been reel­ing since Hur­ri­cane Maria struck three weeks ago, leav­ing death and de­struc­tion in an un­par­al­leled hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria, 90 per­cent of the is­land is still with­out power, and the govern­ment says it will likely be March be­fore elec­tric­ity can be com­pletely re­stored.

Trump 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 said “elec­tric and all in­fra­struc­ture was dis­as­ter be­fore hur­ri­canes.” He blamed Puerto Rico for its loom­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis and “a to­tal lack of ac­count­abil­ity.”

Fed­eral govern­ment of­fi­cials quickly said they were not pulling out of Puerto Rico any­time soon.

But the pres­i­dent’s tweets pro­voked a wave of crit­i­cism from the is­land and its sup­port­ers.

Car­men Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan who has been crit­i­cal of Trump’s hur­ri­cane re­sponse, con­demned his lat­est mes­sage as adding “in­sult to in­jury” and called on in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions to step in to pre­vent “the geno­cide that will re­sult from” Trump’s in­ac­tion.

“Tweet away your hate to mask your ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mis­han­dling of this hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis,” she said, ad­dress­ing the pres­i­dent. “While you are amus­ing your­self throw­ing pa­per tow­els at us, your com­pa­tri­ots and the world are send­ing love and help our way. Con­demn us to a slow death of non­drink­able water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep oth­ers ea­ger to help from reach­ing us.”

Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello was more re­strained as he has been through pre­vi­ous rounds of crit­i­cism by Trump. Af­ter the tweets Thurs­day morn­ing, he called the White House and said he re­ceived as­sur­ances that the pres­i­dent fully sup­ported re­cov­ery ef­forts in Puerto Rico.

“I re­it­er­ate my plea that, as U.S. ci­ti­zens, we are not ask­ing for bet­ter treat­ment or less treat­ment,” Ros­sello said. “We are ask­ing for equal treat­ment. We’re not ask­ing for any­thing that an­other U.S. ju­ris­dic­tion, hav­ing passed through the same sit­u­a­tion, wouldn’t be ask­ing at this junc­ture.”

In Wash­ing­ton, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials sought Thurs­day to re­as­sure Puerto Ri­cans that the U.S. govern­ment re­mains fully com­mit­ted to the ter­ri­tory’s long-term re­cov­ery, de­spite the pres­i­dent’s tweets.

Stand­ing be­side Trump at a White House event in which she was for­mally nom­i­nated to be sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity, Kirst­jen Nielsen ad­dressed long-term hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery ef­forts.

“I also know that this re­build­ing will take years, and I want to echo what the pres­i­dent has said many times: We will re­main fully en­gaged in the long re­cov­ery ef­fort ahead of us,” said Nielsen, cur­rently the deputy White House chief of staff.

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sim­i­larly told re­porters that “our coun­try will stand with those Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens in Puerto Rico un­til the job is done.” Asked whether Trump con­sid­ers Puerto Ri­cans to be U.S. ci­ti­zens, Kelly said he did.

Kelly, who said he spoke with Ros­sello ear­lier in the day, said Trump’s tweets were meant to com­mu­ni­cate his hope that Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency work­ers and the mil­i­tary can with­draw

and hand off ef­forts to the Puerto Ri­can govern­ment “sooner rather than later.”

“They’re not go­ing to be there for­ever,” Kelly said. “The whole point is to start to work your­self out of a job, and then tran­si­tion to the re­build­ing process.”

John Rabin, a top FEMA of­fi­cial in­volved in the re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Maria, said in an in­ter­view that “as Puerto Rico needs as­sis­tance from the fed­eral govern­ment, we’re there to pro­vide it.”

Democrats said Trump’s tweets were “shame­ful,” given that the 3 mil­lion-plus U.S. ci­ti­zens on Puerto Rico are con­fronting the kind of hard­ships that would draw howls of anger if they af­fected a state. One-third of the is­land lacks clean run­ning water, and just 8 per­cent of its roads are pass­able, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment sta­tis­tics.

“It is shame­ful that Pres­i­dent Trump is threat­en­ing to aban­don th­ese Amer­i­cans when they most need the fed­eral govern­ment’s help,” said Mary­land’s U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the sec­ond-rank­ing House Demo­crat.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the tweets “heart­break­ing,” adding that “we are all Amer­i­cans, and we owe them what they need.”

Sen­ate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted: “There is still dev­as­ta­tion, Amer­i­cans are still dy­ing. FEMA needs to stay un­til the job is done.”

Trump’s emails about Puerto Rico came as the House voted 353-69 Thurs­day to pass a dis­as­ter-aid pack­age that in­cludes pro­vi­sions to avert a po­ten­tial cash cri­sis in Puerto Rico re­sult­ing from Hur­ri­cane Maria. The Sen­ate is ex­pected to take up the mea­sure next week.

The leg­isla­tive aid pack­age to­tals $36.5 bil­lion and sticks close to a White House re­quest. For now, it ig­nores de­mands from the Flor­ida and Texas del­e­ga­tions, which to­gether pressed for some $40 bil­lion more.

This year’s se­ries of dis­as­ters could put 2017 on track to ri­val Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of dis­as­ters ever. Ka­t­rina re­quired about $110 bil­lion in emer­gency ap­pro­pri­a­tions.

The cur­rent bill com­bines $18.7 bil­lion for FEMA with $16 bil­lion to per­mit the fi­nan­cially trou­bled fed­eral flood in­sur­ance pro­gram to pay an in­flux of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey-re­lated claims. An ad­di­tional $577 mil­lion would pay for Western fire­fight­ing ef­forts.

Up to $5 bil­lion of the FEMA money could be used to help lo­cal gov­ern­ments re­main func­tional as they en­dure un­sus­tain­able cash short­falls in the af­ter­math of Maria, which has choked off rev­enue and strained re­sources.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., planned to visit Puerto Rico to­day. He has promised that the is­land will get what it needs.

The New York Times/DEN­NIS M. RIVERA PICHARDO

Lt. Gen. Jef­frey Buchanan (left), head of the mil­i­tary re­cov­ery ef­fort in Puerto Rico, helps hand out sup­plies Thurs­day in the town of Cidra, an hour south of San Juan. Buchanan said con­di­tions had im­proved only slightly since he ar­rived two weeks ago.

Cruz

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