President Donald Trump wants to cut off disaster relief to Puerto Rico because he believes, without evidence, that officials there are misusing the money to pay down debts, according to Axios.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which killed almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans and decimated the island territory’s infrastructure.
Trump told aides last month that he doesn’t want new disaster relief funding in future spending bills and even proposed pulling back funds Congress has already appropriated — a move that would require congressional approval.
“He’s always been pissed off by Puerto Rico,” one anonymous official told Axios.
The president’s comments reportedly came after he read an Oct. 22 article in The Wall Street Journal that described how expectations of more Puerto Rico disaster funding had increased the island’s bond prices. That article is full of technical details, but the gist is clear — more disaster funding and a quicker recovery would be better for the overall Puerto Rican economy, and bond markets responded accordingly.
Trump misread the article, several sources told Axios, believing instead that Puerto Rican officials were misusing disaster relief funds to pay down its public debts.
“The people of Puerto Rico are wonderful but the inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations,” Trump tweeted the following day. “The U.S. will NOT bail out long outstanding & unpaid obligations with hurricane relief money!”
No one besides Trump has claimed that Puerto Rican officials are using disaster relief funds to pay off the island’s debts, and he has provided no evidence for that claim.
It isn’t the first time Trump has alleged corruption in Puerto Rico’s disaster relief effort.
In June, Trump accused Puerto Rico’s Democratic governor, Ricardo Rosello, of using Hurricane Maria to get funds for an already failing “power plant.” (It’s not clear what, if any, plant Trump was referring to.) During a meeting with Rosello at the White House last October, Trump said he was “working very closely with the government on that because there has been corruption on the island, and we can’t have that.”
Overall, Trump’s attitude toward the island seems to be driven more by what he perceives as its political disloyalty than by the needs of its 3 million U.S. citizens.
In June, Trump told Rosello he would support Puerto Rico’s bid for statehood if the governor could assure its two U.S. senators would be Republicans. And in September, Trump accused his political enemies of inflating the death toll from Hurricane Maria to make him look bad.
Then there is Trump’s long-running feuds with San Juan’s outspoken mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who was a harsh critic of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria.
“With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump told Geraldo Rivera in September.
Congress has already given the island much less than it says it needs to fully rebuild its infrastructure and harden it against future storms. Now, with Congress queuing up new funding bills for the end of the year and Trump holding the veto pen, Puerto Rico’s continued disaster recovery could be in the crosshairs.