Trump attacks mayor of San Juan, ratcheting up tensions over crisis in Puerto Rico
Trump blasted Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz in a series of tweets that aimed to deflect blame for the deepening humanitarian crisis on the island and to cast the mounting criticism against him as partisan attacks — from local officials, political rivals and the media.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump wrote on Twitter. In another message, he added that Cruz and other local officials “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
The outburst came as Trump has bristled over accusations from local officials that the federal government has not moved quickly enough to provide support and aid amid widespread power outages that have left residents without air conditioning, while food, drinking water and other basic necessities are in short supply in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. At least 16 people have died since the storm struck last week, with many others in critical condition, and officials expect the death toll to climb in the coming days.
On Friday, Cruz pleaded for additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying at a news conference: “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying . . . We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency.”
In his response on Twitter, Trump cast Cruz’s criticism as “unfair” to the thousands of federal workers who his administration says are now in place on the island, and he praised the efforts of the military and other first-responders.
In a bid to isolate Cruz politically, Trump spoke by phone in the afternoon with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp and later praised both of them on Twitter. Trump called Rossello a “great guy” and said that Mapp told him FEMA and the military “are doing a GREAT job!” Trump also praised Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, although he misspelled her first name in a tweet.
And Trump reaffirmed that he and first lady Melania Trump intend to travel Tuesday to Puerto Rico, with a possible stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also is recovering from the hurricane.
“To the people of Puerto Rico: Do not believe the #FakeNews!” Trump wrote on Twitter in the afternoon.
Appearing on MSNBC, Cruz emphasized that she was not trying to be “nasty” to the president and said she remains open to speaking or meeting with Trump.
“I’m fighting to save lives,” she said. “That’s it. This isn’t personal.”
She also made clear she didn’t plan to stay quiet.
“I will always speak my mind,” Cruz told reporters at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. “I don’t give a damn.”
The president’s tone provoked a major backlash among Democrats, community leaders and major celebrities who lambasted him for casting blame and appearing insensitive to the suffering of U.S. citizens. Trump is expected to stop by the Presidents Cup professional golf tournament in Jersey City on Sunday before returning to the White House that evening.
Many of the strongest critiques came from female lawmakers, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).
“When a hurricane hits, there are no Democrats or Republicans–only Americans, families struggling to survive,” Pelosi tweeted. “Shameful @POTUS can’t see that.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical “Hamilton,” wrote on Twitter that Trump is going “straight to hell,” while pop star Lady Gaga wrote to her 71 million followers that “it’s clear where the ‘poor leadership’ lies @realDonaldTrump Puerto Rico is part of the United States. This is our responsibility.”
Russel L. Honoré, the retired lieutenant general eventually appointed by President Bush in 2005 to improve the response to Hurricane Katrina, criticized Trump’s attack on Cruz.
“The mayor’s living on a cot, and I hope the president has a good day at golf,” he said on CNN.
Trump’s senior aides struck back, echoing the president’s assertions that the “fake news” media had failed to tell the full story of the administration’s recovery efforts. White House officials distributed an email to news outlets stating that 10,000 federal workers are on the island and that recovery workers have cleared 11 major highways and 50 percent of the major roadways. The military is airdropping supplies to remote regions in the mountains.
Yet the White House’s own statistics showed how much work remains: Just 45 percent of residents have access to drinking water from the island’s pipelines and just 49 percent of grocery and big box stores and 60 percent of gas stations have reopened.
Republicans in Congress were mostly silent about Trump’s attacks on Cruz, with aides to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) saying he had spoken about Puerto Rico in his weekly news conference on Thursday and would have nothing more to say on the weekend.
One Republican strategist with ties to the White House said Trump’s remarks sought to paint Cruz as a partisan, which will make her criticism easier for Trump’s base to discount.