Trump: Limits on Puerto Rico aid
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump drew a sharp and dismayed backlash Thursday from Democratic lawmakers, activists and many Puerto Ricans with his threat to limit federal and military help in the hurricanebattered U.S. territory, where aid workers are warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria raked the island, some 85 percent of residents remain without power, with nearly half of its 3.4 million population lacking running water.
Deaths attributed to the storm stand at 45, but the number is expected to rise.
In a series of tweets early Thursday, Trump implied that Puerto Rico was to blame for its problems, and suggested he would not endorse the type of yearslong, multibillion-dollar federal recovery effort that typically follows a storm of such magnitude, or another large-scale disaster, striking a U.S. locale.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump said in one tweet.
He also cited what he called a “total lack of accountability” on Puerto Rico’s part.
Despite a triumphal tone during a presidential visit to the island last week, during which he praised the recovery effort to date as “amazing,” Trump has appeared to grow more and more frustrated with criticism of the scope and timing of the recovery effort in Puerto Rico.
He and aides have painted a picture of robust progress, spoken of logistical challenges being overcome and leveled sharp criticism at some local officials.
The verbal dustup over Puerto Rico, whose residents are U.S. citizens, coincides with a post-storm cash crunch for the island.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who has been careful to avoid alienating Trump and consistently praised federal efforts, responded cautiously Thursday, although he made a point of referring to the island’s status as an American territory and its people as citizens.
“The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our nation,” he tweeted.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who Trump said displayed “poor leadership” after she criticized elements of the federal aid effort, said Thursday that Trump’s hurricane response had proved him derelict in his duty as commander in chief.
“Mr. President, you seem to want to disregard the moral imperative that your administration has been unable to fulfill,” she said.
Some saw Trump’s seeming hostility toward the predominantly Spanish-speaking island as fueling yet another divisive, racially tinged controversy of the president’s own making, in the mold of his response in August to deadly violence after a neoNazi, white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., or his fury directed at predominantly African-American NFL players who have chosen to kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem.
In contrast to a tweet about Puerto Ricans wanting “everything done for them,” Trump has repeatedly praised the strength and determination of residents of Texas and Florida, states that were slammed earlier in this hurricane season by storms Harvey and Irma, respectively.
The White House chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, framed the president’s tweet as meaning that first responders, including the military, were always mindful of the need for swift progress — “working very hard to work yourself out of a job,” as he put it to reporters.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump’s tweets reflect a lack of knowledge about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s role.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Twitter that “Americans are still dying” in Puerto Rico, and “FEMA needs to stay until the job is done.”