Trump puts blame on Puerto Rico for trou­bles

$36.5B dis­as­ter aid pack­age clears House

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION - By Ken Thomas and An­drew Tay­lor

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 reel­ing since Hur­ri­cane Maria struck three weeks ago, leav­ing death and de­struc­tion in 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 and “seem more to come from a ‘Hater 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. 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, about 85 per­cent of Puerto Rico res­i­dents still lack elec­tric­ity and 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.”

At the Pen­tagon, Lt. Gen. Ken­neth F. McKen­zie Jr. told re­porters “there’s still plenty of work to be done” by the mil­i­tary troops in Puerto Rico. He said there was no cur­rent plan to with­draw troops who are sup­port­ing FEMA’s re­cov­ery ef­forts. McKen­zie, di­rec­tor of the mil­i­tary’s Joint Staff, said it will be up to FEMA and other civil­ian agen­cies to de­cide when the mil­i­tary is no longer needed there.

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. 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 Rep. Steny Hoyer, the sec­ond-rank­ing House Demo­crat.

Af­ter years of eco­nomic chal­lenges, Puerto Rico was al­ready in the process of re­struc­tur­ing much of its $74 bil­lion in debt be­fore the hur­ri­cane struck. The fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is more com­pli­cated than Trump’s tweets sug­gest.

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