President Donald Trump told Puerto Rican officials Tuesday they should be “very proud” Hurricane Maria did not result in greater loss of life, before addressing the budgetary implications of the natural disaster.
Trump praised Puerto Rican officials for their handling of the natural disaster just after touching down in San Juan in his first visit to the beleaguered island since the Category 4 hurricane made landfall on Sept. 20.
“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” Trump said before asking a local official how many people had died in the storm. “What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands.”
He added that the government’s relief expenditures have thrown the federal budget “a little out of whack” but maintained Puerto Ricans “can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together.”
Trump, who has been accused of orchestrating a delayed and insufficient recovery effort, wasted no time in lavishing praise upon his administration’s response to the storm.
“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” he said. “And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks.”
The comments came after weeks spent defending his administration from critics, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has argued the federal government’s response effort was insufficient.
Trump responded to Cruz in characteristic fashion Saturday morning, accusing her of “poor leadership ability,” and arguing she coordinated with fellow Democrats to disparage the relief efforts in a cynical and politically-motivated effort.
Trump made sure to thank Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who has repeatedly lauded his administration’s response to the storm.
“He has said we have done an incredible job, and that’s the truth,” Trump said.
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