President Trump on Wednesday deflected criticism over his response to the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year by criticizing San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and suggesting she had been partially to blame for the humanitarian disaster.
With Hurricane Florence set to make landfall on the East Coast in a matter of days, the president tweeted that Puerto Rico had been in dire straits prior to the hurricane, suggesting the administration deserved praise for its lackluster recovery efforts on the island, following the storm.
“We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan),” he wrote. “We are ready for the big one that is coming!”
We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 12, 2018
As mayor of the island’s biggest city, Cruz has been one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, condemning his response in Puerto Rico as well as his penchant for self-praise.
“In a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself,” she told CNN Tuesday night. “You should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I’m not content with everything I did. I should’ve done more — we all should have done more.”
Cruz accused Trump of refusing to acknowledge how poorly managed the response in Puerto Rico was, adding, “God bless the people of South Carolina and of North Carolina. If he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, he’s going to make them [again], and people are going to continue to die.”
Trump’s comments also provoked a response from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who previously defended the president. “The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and unAmerican,” he said in a statement. “It is certainly not a successful relationship.”
Last month, following a new study from George Washington University, Puerto Rico’s government revised its death toll for Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975. Asked about the new numbers, Trump insisted that the federal government had done a “fantastic job” and again blamed Puerto Rico for its own problems, including the false claim that it didn’t have power before the hurricane and that it was harder to support because it’s an island.
Cruz criticized Trump then too, saying, “This is just like telling somebody that’s gone through a fire that it’s their fault that they didn’t run fast enough. You left us here to die because you were more concerned about the political spin than about the human reality that we were dying.”
Contrary to Trump’s assertions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acknowledged in a report this past July that it was ill-prepared for Hurricane Maria. Relief workers lacked the supplies they needed and faced dangerous staffing shortages, leaving them unable to address many logistical concerns. The report called for establishing “rainy day” or disaster relief funds to be better prepare for future disasters.
Since the report was issued, however, Trump appears to have done the exact opposite. A report obtained by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) this week showed the administration actually cut $10 million from FEMA’s budget earlier this summer, — at the start of the 2018 hurricane season — transferring it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to pay for more detention beds and deportations related to Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, which resulted in the separations of thousands of families.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 12, 2018
Nevertheless, FEMA administrator Brock Long insists the agency is better prepared for Florence than it was for Maria. And Trump is very confident the administration is ready as well. The president’s own son, Eric Trump, was already praising his father’s response to Florence Wednesday morning during a sit-down with Fox & Friends, despite the fact the hurricane has not yet made landfall.