Trump faces growing backlash over Puerto Rico response
President Donald Trump and his aides are facing a growing backlash over their response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, with federal teams on the island struggling to deliver aid to those in need even as the White House trumpets its efforts as a success story.
The tension over the Trump administration’s self praise spilled out on Friday morning, with the San Juan mayor lashing out at acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, who said on Thursday that the Maria relief efforts are a “good news story.”
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“Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or-death story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said on CNN. “When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me. You know, I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns, and then make a statement like that which frankly it is an irresponsible statement.”
Trump, who is preparing to visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday, has also lavished praise on his administration’s response, writing on Twitter Friday morning that “Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: ‘The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered.’”
A day earlier, Trump wrote that “FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico. Massive food & water delivered… Wish press would treat fairly!” adding in a post later Thursday that Puerto Rico’s “governor said ‘great job!’”
On Friday morning, Trump opened a speech on tax reform by pledging, “We will not rest … until the people of Puerto Rico are safe,” while also explaining that his administration has been handed an immensely difficult situation.
“This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said about the U.S. territory, adding later, “We’ve never seen a situation like this.”
But while Puerto Rican officials have expressed appreciation for the White House’s outreach, they have also made clear that what has been done so far has been insufficient to meet the needs of the island’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens. In the same Fox News interview where Rossello praised Trump for his efforts thus far, he made clear that “we do need more aid” and that obtaining and distributing that aid remains a problem.
Roughly half of Puerto Ricans are still without running water, officials said Friday at a press conference in the island’s capital, San Juan, and just 36 of its 69 hospitals are open and have power. Retirement homes “are becoming just human cages for people that are sick and unable to fend for themselves,” Cruz said Friday morning.
The San Juan mayor said on CNN that it has been logistics, not the presence of supplies themselves, that has thus far presented the toughest hurdle to clear. She said Friday morning that a day earlier there had been thousands of shipping containers filled with supplies stuck at a port and unable to move. Only recently had those containers started to make their way out of the port, she said.
In San Juan, Cruz said her residents had received four pallets of water on Thursday — slightly more than 4,000 bottles for a population of roughly 350,000 people — in addition to four pallets of food and 12 pallets of baby food and supplies.
The situation is more dire in other parts of the island, she said, relaying her conversation with another mayor who said his people had no food, no medicine and were drinking from a creek that they also used to bathe and wash their clothes.