Trump lashes out at Puerto Rico as House weighs aid

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lashed out at hur­ri­cane-dev­as­tated Puerto Rico on Thurs­day, in­sist­ing in tweets 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 dev­as­tated since Hur­ri­cane Maria struck three weeks ago, leav­ing death and de­struc­tion in an un­par­al­leled hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

San Juan Mayor Car­men Yulin 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 strapped gov­ern­ment. 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 Ri­cans still lack elec­tric­ity.

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 His­panic her­itage, 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 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.”

Democrats said Trump’s tweets were de­plorable, given that the 3 million-plus U.S. cit­i­zens on Puerto Rico are con­fronting the kind of hard­ships that would draw howls of out­rage if they af­fected a state.

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

The leg­isla­tive aid pack­age sticks close to a White House re­quest.

For now, it ig­nores huge de­mands from the pow­er­ful Florida and Texas del­e­ga­tions in Congress, which to­gether pressed for $40 bil­lion more.

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


About 85 per­cent of Puerto Rico re­mains with­out elec­tric­ity in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Maria.


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