Wednesday 18 July 2018

Trump jokes that Puerto Rico's recovery has 'thrown our budget a little out of whack'

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump take their seats for a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump take their seats for a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump came face to face with hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday after denouncing critics of the federal relief effort as "politically motivated ingrates" who need to step up their own response to the crisis.

Puerto Ricans who have called Washington's work on the island insufficient "have to give us more help", he said before leaving Washington.

Air Force One brought the president, first lady Melania Trump and aides to Puerto Rico late on Tuesday morning.

He praised federal officials and the governor of Puerto Rico during a visit to the territory in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but jokingly chastised the island for jeopardisng budget resources.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” said Trump as he introduced his budget director Mick Mulvaney.

"We have gone all out for Puerto Rico," Trump said during the televised briefing Tuesday. "It's not only dangerous, it's expensive."

He also compared the death count to that of Hurricane Katrina which ripped through Louisanna in 2005.

“If you look at the — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing. No one has ever seen anything like that. What is your death count?" he said.

"Sixteen," responded Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

"Sixteen certified," Trump said, and then told the leaders assembled that they should all be "very proud."

As he headed out to visit the island earlier, Mr Trump praised the federal response, telling reporters at the White House that "it's now acknowledged what a great job we've done".

He added that at "a local level, they have to give us more help".

Mr Trump added: "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."

The trip will be Mr Trump's fourth areas battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the US Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and hit by high winds.

Nearly two weeks after Maria hit Puerto Rico, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals.

Much of the countryside is still struggling to access such basic necessities as food, fresh water and cash.

Mr Trump's visit follows a weekend in which he aggressively hit back against critics, including San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Mr Trump responded angrily on Twitter, deriding the "poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help".

"They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort," he added, scoffing at "politically motivated ingrates" who had criticised the federal work, and insisting "tremendous progress" was being made.

Ms Cruz had accused the administration of "killing us with the inefficiency" and begged the president to "make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives".

Mr Trump said on Tuesday that Ms Cruz has "come back a long way" in her criticism, noting the recent moderation in her remarks.

He added: "The first responders, the military, Fema, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico.

"And whether it's her or anybody else, they're all starting to say it."

Ms Cruz told the White House she would attend the president's first event: a briefing on hurricane relief efforts at the airport hangar, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Mr Trump and his wife were to attend briefings and meet with Governor Ricardo Rossello, as well as the governor of the US Virgin Islands.

They were also meeting Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight deck of the USS Kearsarge.

Press Association

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