(AP) — President Trump on Tuesday is making his first venture to Puerto Rico to survey the wrath of Hurricane Maria, after touting his administration’s efforts there and criticizing local officials for being unprepared for the storm’s ramifications.
Mr. Trump and his administration have been criticized for offering an optimistic view of the federal government’s response, while much of the island goes without power or clean drinking water. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke called the response to the disaster a “good news story,” to which San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said, “Dammit, this is not a good news story,” but a “‘people are dying’ story.”
From there, Mr. Trump spent Saturday waging a Twitter war against Cruz from his private golf club in New Jersey, harping on her for “poor leadership.” Cruz will be at a briefing Mr. Trump attends at the Muniz Air National Guard Base.
Mr. Trump has also lashed out at “fake news” organizations, saying they are not recognizing the work the Federal Emergency Management Agency or military is doing.
Under pressure, the president last week waived the Jones Act for 10 days, easing shipping restrictions to improve the relief effort.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to receive a briefing on relief efforts and visit storm victims, and meet with military and government officials.
The president’s trip comes as he and his administration also grapple with the devastating mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, forcing the White House to manage two major crises at once.
San Juan mayor calls meeting with WH staff “productive”
San Juan’s mayor said the meeting with White House staff was “productive.” Notably, she said “staff,” not the president.
Trump says recovery efforts are “nothing short of a miracle”
President Trump, outside the Calvary Chapel church, praised the recovery effort after Hurricane Maria.
Mr. Trump again compared Puerto Rico to other storms that have killed far more people, even though, he said, they weren’t perhaps as strong. At his side were Puerto Rico’s governor and local officials.
Mr. Trump, asked about the more than 90 percent of people in Puerto Rico without power, said the federal government is “getting a lot of generators” to Puerto Rico, and most of the hospitals are open.
‘The job that’s been done here is really nothing short of a miracle,” the president said.
Trump tosses paper towels to storm victims
1:54 p.m. President Trump proceeded to an event at a church with storm victims.
The president — in what the White House press pooler described as a Stephen Curry impersonation — softly shot paper towels into the crowd. He also held up canned chicken breast for the crowd to see.
“There’s a lot of love in this room,” Mr. Trump said. “Great people.”
The president also passed out flashlights, with more than 90 percent of the island without power.
“Flashlights, you don’t need them anymore. You don’t need them,” he said.
Trump compares Puerto Rico to “real catastrophe” Katrina
12:40 p.m. At the briefing, President Trump said officials in Puerto Rico can be “proud” that the death count in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. comparing Puerto Rico’s experience to the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We’ve saved a lot of lives,” Mr. Trump said. “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 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. What is your death count? Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be proud of what’s taken place.”
Trump jokes Puerto Rico is throwing budget “out of whack”
12:06 p.m. Mr. Trump, seated around tables with leaders from Puerto Rico and the federal government, praised the federal response to the storm and Puerto Rico’s congresswoman.
He thanked Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, for praising him and the federal response to the storm.
“He didn’t play politics,” Mr. Trump said. “He told it like it was, gave us the highest marks.”
The president expressed how impressed he has been with the response of disaster relief workers to the storm.
“I mean, I’ve never seen people working so hard in my life,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump said some men and women have worked tirelessly, not only in the wake of Hurricane Maria, but also in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. After introducing Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump mentioned the effect Hurricane Maria is having on the federal budget.
“Mick Mulvaney is here – uh, right there,” Mr. Trump said, pointing to Mulvaney. “And Mick is in charge of a thing called budget. Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine.”
USNS Comfort arrives in Puerto Rico
11:58 a.m. The USNS Comfort, the “floating hospital” ship designed to treat hundreds of Puerto Ricans facing medical crises, arrives in Puerto Rico about the same time as the president does.
The USNS Comfort is equipped with sufficient medical supplies for at least 30 days, and could restock later. Some of that equipment includes a catscan unit, dental suite, laboratory, pharmacy, four X-ray machines and 12 operating rooms. On board are more than 800 service members and 70 civil service mariners, and the ship is capable of taking in up to 200 patients a day, with 250 beds for this particular mission.
Trump lands in Puerto Rico
11:43 p.m.: Air Force One lands at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Puerto Rico. At the base, near San Juan, Mr. Trump will receive a briefing on relief efforts.
Mr. Trump shook the hands of military members stationed at the base, as did First Lady Melania Trump.