Trump: Lim­its on Puerto Rico aid

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World -

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.”

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