Clinton pressed Trump to deploy hospital ship Comfort to Puerto Rico. Now it’s preparing to go.
As the devastation from Hurricane Maria became more apparent Sunday, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton implored President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to help the people of Puerto Rico. Send the Navy, she tweeted, especially the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens. https://t.co/J2FVg4II0n
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 24, 2017
Two days later, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long announced that the Navy will soon do exactly that. The decision, disclosed in front of the White House on Tuesday afternoon, was later confirmed by the Navy. It comes after days of critics saying that the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to support hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of nearly 3.5 million people that faces months without electricity and a long rebuilding process.
Navy Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a service spokesman, said that the ship will leave within the next four days, and it will take up to five additional days to reach Puerto Rico. He called the move a “prudent decision in light of current conditions on ground.”
Clinton’s tweet lacked important context
: The Navy already had two amphibious ships off the coast, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill, so the few thousand Marines and sailors aboard could launch relief operations. But her call to action took off , with a petition on the website Change.org garnering more than 100,000 signatures in three days and critics expressing frustration with the hashtag #SendtheComfort.
Since then, the call for the Comfort has come to symbolize something larger: A call for the Pentagon to send more.
More food. More water. More generators. More aircraft.
Preliminary Major Hurricane Maria Estimated Rainfall across Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands. #prwx #usviwx pic.twitter.com/mcluYuSBcR
— NWS San Juan (@NWSSanJuan) September 21, 2017
Trump described the U.S. government response to the devastation in glowing terms Tuesday morning, saying officials were “doing a really good job.” He plans to visit next week, once it is no longer a disruption to first responders, he said.
“It’s very tough because it’s an island,” Trump said. “In Texas, we can ship the trucks right out there. And you know, we’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico. But the difference is, this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean.”
Facing growing criticism about its response, the Pentagon on Monday argued that its efforts over the weekend marked only the beginning. Army Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman, told reporters the U.S. military was focused near-term on search-and-rescue operations and delivering generators to hospitals. Other plans called for the arrival of eight Army Black Hawk helicopters from Fort Campbell, Ky., a fleet of Air Force jets arriving with supplies, and disaster-assessment teams determining what else is needed.
“This is a long-term effort,” Manning said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so [the Department of Defense] will continue to support them as long as support is needed.”
The Pentagon’s effort is complemented by the U.S. Coast Guard, a part of the military overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. The sea service had 13 ships off Puerto Rico by Monday, and was working long shifts to fix ports and and launch search-and-rescue missions.