Politics

Trump Continues Defensive Stance on Puerto Rico Response

President tweets his team has answered governor’s every request

Hurricane survivors receive food and water being given out by volunteers and municipal police as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Thursday in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Continuing his administration’s sometimes-defensive stance on its response to the Puerto Rico hurricane damage crisis, President Donald Trump on Friday contended his team has responded to the island government’s every request.

In a set of morning tweets, Trump dismissed critics — including some congressional Democrats — who allege he and his administration have been too slow in helping the U.S. territory respond to two massive hurricanes. Following the the second, Maria, the entire island lost power, cash is in short supply, and commodities like diesel fuel also are running thin.

On Thursday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York wrote to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to raise his concerns about the Trump administration’s “inadequate” response. Crowley told Duke he is concerned the administration did not deploy the hospital ship USNS Comfort sooner and plans to wait several weeks before asking Congress for a second hurricane relief emergency spending request.

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But the president and his aides are eager to beat back such criticisms. Trump tried to do just that Friday morning, writing that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello “just stated: ‘The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered......”

A Google News search did not turn up any reports of that as a direct quote from the Puerto Rican leader. But he did utter praise for the federal government Thursday.

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“The federal government and the president are aware of what’s happening here, and they have responded to our petitions quickly with a compromise to help the situation in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said during a briefing in San Juan.

A third tweet by Trump later Friday morning again lauded federal agencies “who are working so hard,against terrible odds, in Puerto Rico. See you Tuesday!”

Trump plans to visit the commonwealth next week. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday that timing could change as it got closure to assure the president’s trip would not interfere with recovery efforts.

On Thursday, Duke and White House homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert were deployed to laud the administration’s Puerto Rico response efforts around midday.

“I am very satisfied,” Duke responded in the driveway outside the West Wing. “I know it’s a hard storm to recover from but the amount of progress that’s been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”

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Bossert appeared again several hours later at the regular press briefing, during which he and press secretary Sanders described Trump as being on top of the situation as far back as a week ago.

“President Trump has put people first and paperwork second. He's had us call out and pull out all the stops, and put out as much federal relief into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as we can muster,” Bossert said. “And we’ve been ongoing in our efforts to accomplish that and meet his objectives over the last eight days.”

Earlier this week, the president was forced to deny allegations that his days-long war of words, tweets and pregame protests with NFL players distracted him last weekend and delayed the federal government doing all it could to respond to the Puerto Rican crisis.

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