President Trump on Saturday defended his administration’s hurricane recovery effort in Puerto Rico and questioned the leadership of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz who is criticizing the president’s effort to get supplies, electricity and other relief to the U.S. island.
But after facing criticism over his attacks of the mayor, Trump tweeted praise for several other officials involved in the recovery, including the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. He also praised Puerto’s Rico’s representative in Congress.
“We must all be united in offering assistance to everyone suffering in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the wake of this terrible disaster,” the president tweeted.
He called out three government officials for praise.
“The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, is a great guy and leader who is really working hard,” Trump said. “Thank you Ricky!”
“Just spoke to Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands who stated that #FEMA and Military are doing a GREAT job! Thank you Governor!” the president said.
He also tweeted: “Congresswoman Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico has been wonderful to deal with and a great representative of the people. Thank you!”
Earlier Saturday, the president singled out Cruz for criticism, accusing her of “poor leadership.”
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
Cruz, in response, said later Saturday morning that she’ll “continue to do whatever I have to do” to get federal hurricane assistance.
“I will continue to do whatever I have to do, say whatever I have to say, compliment the people I need to compliment and call out the people I need to call out,” she told MSNBC. “I am not going to be distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues. This is one goal and it’s to save lives.”
Cruz also argued that Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan, appointed Thursday to lead the administration’s response on the U.S. island, says he will need more troops and equipment.
“So, who am I?” she asked. “I’m just a little mayor from the capital city of San Juan. This is a three star general telling the world right now he does not have the appropriate means and tools to take care of the situation.”
Trump also tweeted Saturday: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
Trump pledged Friday to spare no effort to help Puerto Ricans recover from Hurricane Maria’s ruinous aftermath even as Cruz accused the administration of “killing us with the inefficiency.”
Cruz said later Friday that she wanted to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives,” while the president asserted that U.S. officials and emergency personnel are working all-out against daunting odds, with “incredible” results.
Trump also tweeted: “The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed,” and, “Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to “get Trump.” Not fair to FR or effort!”
Among the first to criticize Trump’s tweets Saturday was Broadway actor and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.”You’re going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump,” Miranda, a multi-million-dollar Hillary Clinton fundraiser, tweeted.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, a Democrat, has said the administration is being responsive to the island’s needs and on Saturday appeared to try to deflect questions about Cruz’s comments.
He suggested the Trump-Cruz issue was to his “side” and said his message is that he’s “here to help” and collaborate with the federal government on resources.
On Friday, Rossello said Trump has responded to his requests after the island was clipped by Hurricane Irma, then struck by Maria.
He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director, Brock Long, have essentially been in contact with him “all of the time.
Trump’s acting homeland security secretary, Elaine Duke, visited the island Friday, surveying the landscape by helicopter in an hour-long tour, driving past still-flooded streets, twisted billboards and roofs with gaping holes, and offering encouragement to some of the 10,000 emergency personnel she says the U.S. government has on the ground.
On Thursday, the U.S. military named Buchanan to oversee the response effort.
Trump is expected to survey the damage Tuesday.
Duke tried, too, to move on from the remarks she made a day earlier in which she called the federal relief effort a “good-news story.” But on that front, she ran into winds as fierce as Maria.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” Cruz said in a news conference. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
Thousands more Puerto Ricans got water and rationed food Friday as an aid bottleneck began to ease. By now, telecommunications are back for about 30 percent of the island, nearly half of the supermarkets have reopened at least for reduced hours and about 60 percent of the gas stations are pumping.
But many remain desperate for necessities, most urgently water, long after the Sept. 20 hurricane.
Trump said Puerto Rico is “totally unable” to handle the catastrophe on its own. “They are working so hard, but there’s nothing left,” he said. “It’s been wiped out.” He said the government is “fully engaged in the disaster and the response and recovery effort.”
Trump said he was not aware of Duke’s “good-news” remark.
“I haven’t heard what she said,” he told reporters. “I can tell you this: We have done an incredible job considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with.”
Yet even in voicing solidarity and sympathy with Puerto Rico, he drew attention again to the island’s pre-hurricane debt burden and infrastructure woes, leaving doubt how far Washington will go to make the U.S. territory whole.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — it will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said. “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”
Earlier he tweeted: “The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
Speaking to the press, and taking no questions, Duke said neither she nor Trump will rest until displaced Puerto Ricans are back home, schools, hospitals and clean water are back and the island’s economy is moving again. Duke said she is aware people are suffering and “clearly the situation in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory.”
Trump weighed in on his way to New Jersey for the weekend.
He praised his emergency management director, Brock Long, for doing a “fantastic job,” pointed out that Duke is serving in an acting capacity and said “she’s working very hard.”
Duke said before leaving Washington that the federal relief effort was a “good-news story” because of “our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths.”
“Let me clarify,” she said Friday upon her arrival in San Juan. She said she meant “it was good news that people of Puerto Rico and many public servants of the United States are working together.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.