Poll: Trump's Puerto Rico re­sponse in­ad­e­quate

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By LAU­RIE KELLMAN and EMILY SWAN­SON

WASHINGTON - Amer­i­cans are more likely to dis­ap­prove than ap­prove of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's han­dling of the Puerto Rico hur­ri­cane re­lief ef­fort.

Ac­cord­ing to a poll by the As­so­ci­ated PressNORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search, just 32 per­cent ap­prove of how Trump is han­dling dis­as­ter re­lief in the U.S. ter­ri­tory, while 49 per­cent dis­ap­prove.

“It took him how long to get to Puerto Rico?” said Bree Har­ris, a 25year-old chef and Democrat from Los Angeles. She sus­pects Trump “didn't even know that Puerto Rico was an is­land that was part of Amer­ica. It's em­bar­rass­ing.”

Trump drew bet­ter marks for his han­dling of the re­cov­er­ies after hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma. Forty-eight per­cent of Amer­i­cans ap­prove and just 27 per­cent dis­ap­prove of Trump's han­dling of re­cov­er­ies in U.S. states, in­clud­ing Texas and Florida.

The poll was con­ducted be­fore Trump on Tues­day made his first trip to Puerto Rico, an is­land 1,000 miles from the main­land, after Hur­ri­cane Maria roared ashore Sept. 20 and knocked out all power. The fed­eral re­sponse has drawn crit­i­cism and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ag­gres­sively pushed back.

After lav­ish­ing at­ten­tion and time on Texas and Florida, Trump tweeted his wish for Puerto Ri­cans to ``be care­ful'' just be­fore the storm hit, but then didn't talk pub­licly about the is­land's post-hur­ri­cane strug­gles for days as he chose in­stead to fight with the NFL over some of its play­ers kneel­ing for the national an­them. Crit­ics said the pres­i­dent had failed to grasp the mag­ni­tude of Maria's de­struc­tion as quickly as he had the twin wal­lops of Har­vey and Irma.

A week later, Trump pub­licly tuned in to Maria's af­ter­math. He sent mul­ti­ple ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials out to de­fend his re­sponse. He called brief­ings and meet­ings and in­sisted that help­ing Puerto Ri­cans was a top pri­or­ity. But Trump also sug­gested their suf­fer­ing was partly the fault of of­fi­cials who had al­lowed the is­land's in­fra­struc­ture and econ­omy to de­grade be­fore the hur­ri­canes and said lo­cal peo­ple should be do­ing more to help the re­cov­ery.

In an in­ter­view with Fox News on Tues­day, Trump said that “we're going to have to wipe out” Puerto Rico's debt. “We're going to work some­thing out,'' he said. “We have to look at their whole debt struc­ture.You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. And we're going to have to wipe that out.”

On Wednesday, how­ever, White House bud­get direc­tor Mick Mul­vaney ap­peared to walk back Trump's re­marks, telling re­porters “we are not going to be of­fer­ing a bailout for Puerto Rico or for its cur­rent bond­hold­ers.”

Wide­spread dis­as­ters of­fer pres­i­dents much to gain - or lose - po­lit­i­cally as they try to play the role of com­forter while com­pe­tently lead­ing the gov­ern­ment's re­sponse to life­and-death is­sues for masses of Amer­i­cans. “He didn't do a tremen­dous job in the states, but it's not quite as dis­turb­ing and hor­rific as his re­sponse in Puerto Rico,” said Tara BleshBoren, 34, a reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dent from Lin­coln, Ne­braska. “He is so busy get­ting his ego in­volved in these ridicu­lous back-and-forth ar­gu­ments about things that don't mat­ter to any­one but him that he is re­ally not man­ag­ing our coun­try.”

The poll in­cludes re­sponses from peo­ple in all states, but not in Puerto Rico or other U.S. ter­ri­to­ries.

While some Puerto Ri­cans ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Trump's visit on Tues­day, oth­ers said they were frus­trated with the pace of the re­cov­ery - and the tone of some of the pres­i­dent's re­marks.

Of­fi­cials say 93 per­cent of the is­land still lacks elec­tric­ity. In the cap­i­tal, San Juan, where most neigh­bor­hoods re­main with­out power, pas­try chef Rose Cis­neros said her fam­ily is far­ing well but she wor­ries about com­mu­ni­ties in the is­land's moun­tain­ous in­te­rior that are still strug­gling to ac­cess food and clean wa­ter.

“I am grateful the mil­i­tary is help­ing. I wish it could be even more,” Cis­neros said, adding that she's been frus­trated to hear Trump bring up Puerto Rico's debt and the cost to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the re­cov­ery ef­fort.

Wa­ter ser­vice has been re­stored to about half of cus­tomers across the is­land, ac­cord­ing to the gover­nor, who has said he hopes 25 per­cent of elec­tric­ity cus­tomers will have power by the end of Oc­to­ber. Of­fi­cials have said power would be re­stored to the en­tire is­land be­fore March. Many stores have opened, in­clud­ing half of the is­land's gro­cery stores, but many have run out of ba­sic sup­plies and lines are still long.

The poll shows par­ti­san di­vi­sions on Trump's han­dling of dis­as­ter re­lief , but Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike are more likely to ap­prove of Trump's han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion in Texas and Florida than in Puerto Rico.

Among Repub­li­cans, 76 per­cent ap­prove of Trump's dis­as­ter re­sponse state­side while 62 per­cent ap­prove of how he's han­dling the sit­u­a­tion in Puerto Rico. Among Democrats, 30 per­cent ap­prove of how Trump is han­dling the sit­u­a­tions in Florida and Texas while just 11 per­cent ap­prove of how he's han­dling the sit­u­a­tion in Puerto Rico.

Two in 10 whites, 4 in 10 His­pan­ics and nearly 6 in 10 African Amer­i­cans dis­ap­prove of the pres­i­dent's re­sponse in U.S. states. But 4 in 10 whites, 6 in 10 His­pan­ics and nearly 8 in 10 blacks dis­ap­prove of the re­sponse in Puerto Rico.

Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats and 7 in 10 Repub­li­cans say the U.S. gov­ern­ment has a ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­ity to help dis­as­ter vic­tims in U.S. ter­ri­to­ries.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, more than 4 in 10 Amer­i­cans say they or their friends or fam­ily were se­ri­ously im­pacted by this year's hur­ri­canes, in­clud­ing 8 per­cent who say they were per­son­ally im­pacted and an­other 34 per­cent who say that friends or fam­ily mem­bers were se­ri­ously im­pacted.

Many say they've taken part in char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties in re­sponse to the re­cent storms, in­clud­ing 55 per­cent who gave money, cloth­ing or other items to char­ity, 11 per­cent who did ex­tra vol­un­teer work, and 9 per­cent who do­nated blood or tried to do so.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF YOUTUBE.COM

A po­lit­i­cal party ban­ner waves over a home dam­aged in the pass­ing of Hur­ri­cane Maria.

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