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‘What the people of Puerto Rico understand is that Trump needs to come down to Puerto Rico’

The Trump administration is holding up a $13 billion disaster relief bill over funding for the island, still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

Jaime Santana, 72, of Villa Nevarez in Rio Piedras, a neighborhood of San Juan, has painted the words, "Puerto Rico together we will overcome." CREDIT: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jaime Santana, 72, of Villa Nevarez in Rio Piedras, a neighborhood of San Juan, has painted the words, "Puerto Rico together we will overcome." CREDIT: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

During a visit to San Juan about two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump’s way of showing survivors how much he cared to help them through a cataclysmic horror was to throw paper towels at them.

Later, when his administration’s “official” death count of 16 was challenged by a report commissioned by the Puerto Rican government that revealed the actual death toll was 2,750 — and as other studies, looking at the prolonged impact of the hurricane, put the total at close to 5,000 deaths — Trump stood by his initial, obviously incorrect claim.

On Thursday, Trump stood on the White House lawn and, in characteristically hyperbolic fashion, proclaimed, “I’ve taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever. Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being. And I think the people of Puerto Rico understand it.”

To find out if, in fact, the people of Puerto Rico “understand” that President Donald Trump has been giving them five-star treatment, ThinkProgress called up Anthony Maceira, public affairs secretary for Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who was driving through the island after returning from a trip to Washington, D.C.

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“What the people of Puerto Rico understand is that Trump needs to come down to Puerto Rico,” Maceira said. “He needs to meet with the governor, as the governor has requested on multiple occasions. He needs to be able to see the facts firsthand. We don’t know why, but for some reason he is getting ill-advised [and] incorrect information that leads him to make statements or announce certain things that are not quite according to the truth.”

Arguments over disaster recovery money, which Trump opposes, are holding up a big disaster bill in Congress. As the Washington Post reports, the bill “provides more than $13 billion in much-needed recovery funds for everything from volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and wildfires in California, to hurricanes in Florida and Georgia and flooding in the Midwest, among other calamities.”

Congressional Democrats say the bill fails to account for the full scope of Puerto Rico’s needs, which extend far beyond the $600 million this legislation allocates for its food stamp program — and that this failure is in line with Trump’s ongoing indifference to the plight of the hurricane-ravaged island. Republicans, as the Post puts it, “say Democrats are grandstanding over Puerto Rico and in the process blocking much-needed assistance to the rest of the United States, including the Midwest, where recent flooding ravaged farms and drinking water supplies in Iowa, Nebraska and elsewhere.”

Asked about this framing — either assistance is available for Puerto Rico or for the Midwest, but not both — Maceira said, “Supporting American citizens, in a state or Puerto Rico, should not be… mutually exclusive. Although we’re a colony, it’s over 3 million American citizens that live in Puerto Rico. We’re American citizens. We have U.S. passports. It’s just the same. It’s geographical discrimination. So stating that, in order to help Puerto Rico you have to stop helping someone else, that’s not correct.”

“We’re going to keep on pushing to receive equal treatment in every aspect, and that goes right to the bottom of our issue, which is: We’re a colony. And since we’re a colony, we get treated differently in every way you can imagine,” he went on. “We’ll keep on fighting for equality on all fronts. However, we won’t turn down any help that comes toward Puerto Rico in the meantime. Our people need to be able to keep on recovering and we need the resources to do so.”

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What are the odds Trump will take a trip to Puerto Rico anytime soon? “We would hope he does,” Maceira said. “He’s been here before. There’s no reason for him not to want to meet with the governor… clarify the doubts, and confront the information that he’s getting firsthand.”

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with CNN, Gov. Rosselló said of the president, “If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth. It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage.”