On Monday morning, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that she is bringing Carmen Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address.
I hope Mayor Cruz's presence at #SOTU will remind the president and my colleagues in Congress of our urgent responsibility to help Puerto Rico fully recover and rebuild. Our fellow citizens must not be forgotten or left behind.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 29, 2018
Cruz has become the unexpected face of the devastated, and still resilient territory of Puerto Rico, which suffered an indirect hit from Hurricane Irma and a direct hit from Hurricane Maria last summer.
Her position was elevated even more after the President of the United States, whose role after disasters is normally to lift vulnerable people up and inspire the world to come to their aid, picked an immature fight with her on Twitter.
After Cruz took to the airwaves to plead directly with Trump to ensure federal disaster recovery was working effectively in the face of a humanitarian crisis she said could get “close to a genocide,” Trump attacked her on Twitter. He said she had “poor leadership” and accused Puerto Ricans of wanting “everything to be done for them.” He then patted himself on the back for his handling of the disaster. Cruz responded to Trump with images of Puerto Ricans working to rebuild, saying: “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our ‘true colors’. We cannot be distracted by anything else.”
Trump then called her a politically motivated ingrate, before lauding his administration’s response to the disaster again and again. The White House then issued a statement where other officials praised Trump.
We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
A few days later, Trump traveled to Puerto Rico to receive a briefing about recovery efforts, and briefly shook hands with Cruz. His focus, however, was praising local officials who did not criticize him, rather than the recovery effort itself. “Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics, he didn’t play at all, he was saying it like it was and he was giving us the highest grades and I want to on behalf of our country, I want to thank you,” Trump said of Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Upon his return, he lauded the cheers he received, and the softness of the towels he threw to people in a room in a much-derided photo op.
Cruz continued to sent updates about the lack of federal response via Twitter, noting that FEMA was unresponsive when a hospital requested aid and that there was a dire lack of water. FEMA administrator Brock Long said “we filtered out the mayor a long time ago.”
As of Monday morning, power generation in Puerto Rico reached 69.42 percent of normal subscribers. And for those who have gotten their power back, blackouts are still very common. About 450,000 people have no power at all and still rely on generators at night.
Preventing food spoilage is just another daily battle — let alone ensuring vulnerable residents receive the medical care they require. The official death toll of the storm is 64 people, but 1,052 more people than usual died after the storm, according to an investigation by the New York Times.
During Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico in October, Cruz was there for the briefing the president attended. Trump received applause several times, but Cruz did not join in, according to a pool report. With State of the Unions of years past judged in part on how often a president receives applause, Cruz’s hand will likely receive some attention on Tuesday night.
State of the Union addresses have a history of noteworthy guests, often picked to highlight a policy priority of, or disagreement with, the president giving the speech. Many Democrats are inviting ‘Dreamers’ to Tuesday’s speech, as the administration fights with Congress over how to settle a legislative fix to the problem Trump created when he rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), who is giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union, is bringing a transgender soldier as his guest, which can be seen as a direct response to Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from military service.
Many residents of Puerto Rico — who are U.S. citizens, which is something that almost half of Americans apparently do not know — have relocated from the island to other states like Florida, where if they become state residents, they become fully enfranchised in whatever state in which they reside.