In his first visit to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall, President Trump met with local leaders and federal responders on Tuesday, shortly after landing at an Air Force base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, for a planned briefing on the island’s current situation.
During the briefing, Trump compared the casualties of the two major storms, suggesting that Katrina’s death toll of 1,833 made it more of a legitimate crisis than Hurricane Maria.
The president took the opportunity to laud himself and heap praise upon the federal government’s response to the disaster, quickly adding that Puerto Rico should be “very proud” of its low official death count.
U.S. President Donald Trump, sitting between Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and first lady Melania Trump, sits down to a briefing on hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Gurard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. (Photo Credit: Thomson Reuters).
Intent upon drawing stark distinctions between numbers—Trump added that only 16 people died in “Hurricane Maria” compared to the thousands killed “in a real catastrophe” like “Hurricane Katrina.”
“Sixteen versus in the thousands,” Trump said during his first visit to the island, after asking one of the officials what the death count was. “You can be very proud of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands. You can be very proud.”
Throughout his briefing, Trump downplayed his remarks about the devastation in Puerto Rico—where more than half of the people are without power, cellphone service, or running water, two weeks after the Category 4—Hurricane Maria made landfall, leaving within its trail sizeable infrastructure damage.
“We have gone all out for Puerto Rico,” Trump said during the televised briefing Tuesday. “It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive.”
While Puerto Rico clearly needs much more aid — including help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair its damaged infrastructure — the president decided to focus on how much money it had already spent.
Trump praised the director of the FEMA, military commanders and a half-dozen members of his Cabinet who accompanied him to Puerto Rico.
Singling out Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, Trump said, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’re throwing our budget out of whack.”
Before leaving the White House on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that Ms. Cruz was now mostly satisfied.
“I think she’s come back a long way,” Trump said. “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.” He asserted that the relief effort was as competent as those in Texas and Florida, and he added, “It’s actually a much tougher situation.”
Handing out packages of rice, with the “Arroz Rico” stamp, Trump said, “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love.” Shortly after that remark, he tossed rolls of paper towels into the crowd.
President Trump tossed rolls of paper towels to storm victims at a church. (Photo Credit Doug Mills/the New York Times).
In later remarks Tuesday — while handing out flashlights— Trump insisted Puerto Ricans didn’t need flashlights, though much of the island is still without power, as he acknowledged to reporters just minutes before his briefing.
“The power grid, honestly, was devastated before the hurricanes even hit. And then the hurricanes hit and they wiped them out,” Trump said. “A lot of generators have been already brought to the island. Most of the hospitals are open — or at least partially open. But most of them now are open. And, again, the job that’s been done here is really nothing short of a miracle. It’s been incredible.”
Trump’s comments on Tuesday could be construed as somewhat of a distraction from his administration’s response efforts with Cruz. The San Juan mayor, criticized the president for his comments about Puerto Rico’s impact on the U.S. budget.
“It goes to prove the lack of sensibility,” she told CNN in an interview.
LeNora Millen 10-03-17