White House defends Trump’s NFL fixation as Puerto Rico seeks help
The White House on Monday defended President Donald Trump’s muted response to the devastation Hurricane Maria left behind in Puerto Rico, brushing off criticism that he’s been more interested in kneeling NFL players than a U.S. territory suffering from a humanitarian crisis.
Trump last tweeted about the storm on Sept. 20, writing, “Governor @RicardoRossello- We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! #PRStrong.”
Story Continued Below
Since then, as the scale of the devastation has become apparent, Trump has not addressed the catastrophe from his Twitter account. Over the same period, he’s tweeted twice about Hillary Clinton, three times about Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), once about NBA star Steph Curry and 12 times about the NFL, along with numerous additional posts about the national anthem that did not explicitly mention the NFL.
“It really doesn’t take that long to type out 140 characters and this president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday, arguing that Trump’s Twitter feed should not be taken as an indication of his priorities.
Sanders also called the Trump administration’s response to the storm “unprecedented,” even as it has been far less public than the responses to Irma and Harvey. Maria has left much of Puerto Rico — a territory of 3.4 million U.S. citizens — without power and with limited access to food and water.
“We’ve done unprecedented movement in terms of federal funding to provide for the people of Puerto Rico and others that have been impacted [by] these storms, we’ll continue to do so,” Sanders said, noting that FEMA Administrator and Brock Long and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert had traveled to the island to assess the damage and the response efforts.
She also pushed back against the idea that Trump is sending a message by tweeting attacks against NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem and not tweeting about Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also took a big hit.
“He’s not emphasizing sports. You’re missing the entire purpose of the message,” Sanders said.
Trump, however, has been noticeably less engaged with Maria’s devastation.
After hurricanes Harvey and Irma ripped through Texas and Florida, Trump told several advisers he was very pleased with the administration’s handling of the storms, and senior administration officials were buoyed by the idea that the response caused his poll numbers to climb.
But Trump has not seemed as focused on Maria, administration officials say, though they note he has called governor, Ricardo Rossello, to ask about the damage.
Rossello has so far praised FEMA’s response and other parts of the Trump administration, but has had to petition the government for more military resources, mainly aircraft, for searches and air drops of essential goods to towns cut off by the natural disaster.
“We know that there are capabilities in the surrounding areas, helicopters, planes and so forth. And our petition is for us to be able to use them and be flexible in using them with making sure that resources arrive to those areas of that are more vulnerable in Puerto Rico,” Rossello told POLITICO on Sunday night.
Rossello stopped short of criticizing Trump’s engagement.