San Juan Mayor Rebukes Trump Administration for Rosy Comments on Relief Effort
On Friday evening, Mr. Trump again repeatedly praised his government’s response to the Puerto Rico hurricane during remarks to reporters before leaving for his New Jersey club for the weekend.
“It’s going really well, considering,” Mr. Trump said. He added: “We’ve made tremendous strides. Very tough situation.” Later, he said, “People can’t believe how successful it’s been.”
But the disconnect between what officials in Washington were saying and the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico was captured on live television by the response of the mayor of San Juan when she was played a clip of the Homeland Security secretary, Elaine Duke, saying that she was “very satisfied” with the government’s response. Ms. Duke called it “a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place.”
The retort from Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz: “This is, damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life or death’ story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.”
Mr. Trump’s political adversaries quickly pounced on what they said was evidence of a lack of interest or urgency on the part of the president. And some saw an echo of the comments made in 2005 by former President George W. Bush, when he praised then-FEMA head Michael Brown for doing “a heck of a job” in the midst of what was widely seen as a slow and botched recovery effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“The problem is, and this is what felled the Bush administration: images tell the whole story,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who served as a communications director and senior adviser for former President Barack Obama. “You had Trump on Twitter saying one thing, and then you have the images all over cable news telling a different story.”
Peter Feaver, a national security official for Mr. Bush during Katrina, said there were many similarities between Hurricane Maria and the 2005 storm, each of which hold lessons for Mr. Trump and his team.