As San Juan mayor appeals for more Puerto Rico aid, Trump denounces politically motivated ‘ingrates’

  • A cost guard helicopter arrives to deliver emergency supplies after the passing of of Hurricane Maria, in Utuado, Puerto Rico, Saturday, Sept. 30 2017. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday accused the Trump administration of "killing us with the inefficiency" after the storm. She begged the president, who is set to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, to "make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives," and appealed for help "to save us from dying." (Thais Llorca/Pool Photo via AP) Thais Llorca

Washington Post
Sunday, October 01, 2017

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz called for better, more coordinated federal aid on Sunday to deal with the widespread storm damage in Puerto Rico as President Donald Trump continued to praise the relief effort and the U.S. government response.

Trump spent much of Saturday attacking Cruz on Twitter, accusing her of “poor leadership” and of coordinating with Democrats to push “fake news” about his administration’s disaster response. Cruz avoided directly criticizing Trump on Sunday and attempted to refocus the discussion on speeding aid and supplies to people on the island territory.

“All I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help,” Cruz said in an interview on ABC’s This Week. “It has to happen in a sustained manner. It has to happen quickly.”

Cruz went on to compliment workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert for their work in recent days to restore power to parts of the island. Cruz also said she would be willing to meet with Trump during his planned visit to Puerto Rico this week.

“If he asks to meet with me, of course I would meet with him,” Cruz said. “I mean, you know, anything that can be done and anyone that can listen.”

Cruz had been among the harshest critics of Trump’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which have killed at least 16 people and left millions across Puerto Rico without food, water and electricity in recent weeks. Cruz struck a more cautious tone after Trump’s attacks on Twitter.

But as Cruz spoke, Trump on Twitter was again defending the relief effort, calling critics “politically motivated ingrates.”

“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,” Trump tweeted. “People are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected ... for safety. Thank you to the Governor of P.R. and to all of those who are working so closely with our First Responders. Fantastic job!”

The political jousting has frustrated many lawmakers and observers, who worry that it distracts from the urgent need to coordinate relief efforts.

“Every minute we spend in the political realm bickering with one another over who’s doing what, or who’s wrong, or who didn’t do right is a minute of energy and time that we’re not spending trying to get the response right,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said during a Sunday interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

“I hope we’ll stay 100 percent focused on what needs to be done to get the people of Puerto Rico help. And then we’ll have plenty of time in the future to have these debates about who didn’t do the right thing or what could have been done better,” Rubio said.

Trump and other administration officials insist that the government response has been strong despite widespread damage to roads and bridges as well as poor infrastructure on the island. On Saturday, FEMA released an updated timeline of its response efforts in Puerto Rico, highlighting the delivery of generators and food and water shipments across the island.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long continued defending the agency’s response, citing work to reopen 700 gas stations and roughly 50 percent of “private-sector grocery retail” and return telephone service to a third of the people on the island.

“I have disaster-assistance employee teams that are inundating Puerto Rico, going door to door, neighborhood to neighborhood, to try to get people registered,” Long said Sunday in interview on This Week.

Long also said Cruz needs to be more engaged with coordination efforts on the island by meeting regularly at a joint field office established by the agency.

“She has been there once,” he said. “This is an operation that needs to happen all of the time.”

He added that FEMA employees have been forced to rebuild many of the most basic services in Puerto Rico, far beyond the demands that are typical in a disaster area.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Long said. “Let’s call it what it is – there was a weak infrastructure and building codes, and this place was wiped out by not one hurricane but two.”