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Trump To Puerto Rico: Drop Dead

Puerto Rico Maria

Just over three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, President Trump is already threatening to pull Federal aid and blaming the government of the U.S. territory for what happened:

WASHINGTON — President Trump suggested again on Thursday that Puerto Rico bore some of the blame for its current crisis following twin hurricanes, and warned that there were limits to how long he would keep troops and federal emergency workers on the island to help.

Mr. Trump, who has been criticized for a slow and not always empathetic response to the storms that ravaged the United States territory, sounded off in a series of early-morning Twitter posts. Angry about the criticism, he has sought to refocus blame to where he believes it belongs — the leadership of the island itself, which in his view mismanaged its affairs long before the winds blew apart its infrastructure.

“‘Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.’ says Sharyl Attkisson,” he wroteciting the host of a public affairs show on Sinclair Broadcast Group television stations. “A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

The threat may mean less than it appears — federal government officials quickly said that they were not pulling out of Puerto Rico anytime soon. But it provoked another wave of criticism from the island and its supporters who expressed astonishment that the president would assail the very people he was supposed to be assisting.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of the capital of San Juan who has been critical of Mr. Trump’s response and blasted by him in return, condemned his latest message as adding “insult to injury” and called on international organizations to step in to prevent “the genocide that will result from” Mr. Trump’s inaction.

“Tweet away your hate to mask your administration’s mishandling of this humanitarian crisis,” she said, addressing the president. “While you are amusing yourself throwing paper towels at us, your compatriots and the world are sending love and help our way. Condemn us to a slow death of nondrinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us.”

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was more restrained as he has been through previous rounds of criticism by Mr. Trump. After the tweets on Thursday morning, he called the White House and said he received assurances that the president fully supported recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

“I reiterate my plea that, as U.S. citizens, we are not asking for better treatment or less treatment,” Mr. Rosselló said. “We are asking for equal treatment. We’re not asking for anything that another U.S. jurisdiction, having passed through the same situation, wouldn’t be asking at this juncture.”

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was more restrained as he has been through previous rounds of criticism by Mr. Trump. After the tweets on Thursday morning, he called the White House and said he received assurances that the president fully supported recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

“I reiterate my plea that, as U.S. citizens, we are not asking for better treatment or less treatment,” Mr. Rosselló said. “We are asking for equal treatment. We’re not asking for anything that another U.S. jurisdiction, having passed through the same situation, wouldn’t be asking at this juncture.”

Puerto Rico was already facing deep financial troubles before Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept across the island, knocking out many basic services. Three weeks after Maria hit, 83 percent of the island was still without power, 36 percent had no running water and 45 percent was without telecommunication services.

While some sort of normalcy has been restored in San Juan, residents of the more isolated interior municipalities were still struggling with a precarious health situation and problems with aid distribution. Although 86 percent of supermarkets are now open, the government could not ensure that they were fully stocked with food and water.

Here are the tweets in question:

The Governor of Puerto Rico was quick to respond:

As was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

Trump is correct that Puerto Rico was in dire financial straits well before Maria came along, but his tweets seem to ignore some of the main reasons for that. Among the primary reasons are the financial obligations that Federal laws impose on the Commonwealth without providing for any real means for reimbursement from Congress. Additionally, the fact that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and have been for a century now, means that citizens of the island are free to travel and move to the United States at any time, which means that the Commonwealth often loses many of its ‘best and brightest’ to the allure of a better life in the mainland United States. On top of all of that, changes that were made to Federal bankruptcy laws more than a decade ago meant that government-run entities and municipalities were not allowed to seek the same kind of bankruptcy protection that similar entities on the mainland are allowed to take advantage of as they always have been able to do. That law was changed somewhat last year and, as a result, there are several municipal bankruptcies pending in the Federal Courts that aimed to allow the island to reorganize its finances while seeking to reach a deal with creditors that will allow it continue to function.

In any event, even if Puerto Rico had been in much better financial condition, that would have been largely irrelevant once Hurricane Maria bored down on the island three weeks ago. When the storm hit, Maria was a strong Category 4 storm and it hit the island with the worst of its wind and rain. By the time the storm cleared, the vast majority of the island was without power, most residents didn’t have potable water, and areas outside the major cities were largely inaccessible due to damage to the road system. Even today, three weeks after the storm hit and while the attention of most Americans has shifted to other things, the situation remains desperate, with vast areas of the islands still without power or drinkable water and most authorities projecting it could be up to six months before power and water are restored to some parts of the island. Others are projecting that it will take a year of work and billions of dollars in aid to get the island back to where it was before the storm hit, never mind making the kind of repairs necessary to fix pre-existing problems with the power grid and other systems.

What’s notable, although probably not surprising, about the President’s reaction to the situation in Puerto Rico is how different it is to the reaction to the damage done just a few weeks before by Hurricane Harvey in southern Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. In those case, Trump at least appeared to be on top of the situation and even to be empathetic to what was happening on the ground. In the case of Puerto Rico, Trump has been rather dismissive and has spent more time attacking the Mayor of San Juan and other government officials and blaming them for the situation and the difficulties that the Federal Government has had in responding to the disaster. A cynical person, of course, would conclude that the difference in treatment can be found in the fact that there are no Electoral Votes to seek in Puerto Rico and the island’s residents are not likely to be among his supporters. Whatever the reason, though, the attitude he’s displaying is hardly Presidential, but then that’s typical for him, isn’t it?

In any event, Trump’s tweets likely won’t amount to anything. Now that FEMA is on the ground, Federal law requires them to stay until they’ve dealt with the emergency created by the storm as completely as possible. To keep that in perspective, it should be noted that there are still FEMA representatives in Louisiana dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010 and in New Jersey and New York processing claims related to the impact of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Most likely, that will be true of the FEMA personnel still on the ground in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico due to the impact of three separate very strong storms over a three week period. Regardless of that point, though, the fact that an American President is talking about American citizens in this manner is something I’d call shocking, but then the standard for what qualifies as shocking is very different in the Trump Era. Today, what would have been shocking under another President is just “same stuff, different day” for this President. The only real question is what he’ll say or do next.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Puerto Ricans are “others”…not real ‘mericuns.
    So fvck ’em.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. While I’m a fan of Gerald Ford, the comparison *IS* apt. One important difference between Ford and Trump – Ford expressed his love for New York City, while arguing that they had to be more fiscally responsible. Trump threw paper towels.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    A cynical person, of course, would conclude that the difference in treatment can be found in the fact that there are no Electoral Votes to seek in Puerto Rico and the island’s residents are not likely to be among his supporters.

    A cynical person might note one other possible reason Trump has been unsympathetic.

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. -G. B Shaw

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  4. KM says:

    Additionally, the fact that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and have been for a century now, means that citizens of the island are free to travel and move to the United States at any time, which means that the Commonwealth often loses many of its ‘best and brightest’ to the allure of a better life in the mainland United States.

    And yet if the Rust Belt or Appalachia got hit, somehow I don’t think he’d be accusing them of the same thing and threatening to pull aid. The young always leave economic dead zones and have since humans could travel. If I were a rural resident with any self-awareness or empathy, I’d be wondering what he’d say and do to me when it hits the fan……

    On the plus side, PR citizens can move to the US whenever they like. So in the interest of humanitarian relief, let’s get a bunch of them off the island and into Florida. About a million or so would definitely help alleviate all the relief work we’d need to put into PR *and* it would flip Florida blue. You heard Trump, people – relief won’t last forever. Come live in sunny Florida where you’ll still get hit with hurricanes but no one will deny you aid and you’ll get the chance to vote that cabrón out of office!

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  5. James Pearce says:

    @KM:

    About a million or so would definitely help alleviate all the relief work we’d need to put into PR *and* it would flip Florida blue.

    I know, I know, I’m the resident curmudgeon, but this is the magical thinking I keep slamming on the left.

    The emptying of PR is certainly possible, but why would they all move to Florida and why would they all vote Dem?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  6. KM says:

    @James Pearce:

    Actually, this is a good question and deserves an answer. Truth is, they’ll likely head for relatives so that gives a more even to blue state distribution. That however can be changed. As for voting Trump, Hispanics would be a natural base for conservatives if they’d just stop with the whole “we don’t like you” bit. They wouldn’t vote Dem, they’d vote Anybody But Trump after what he’s doing. Republicans are *deeply* underestimating how angry this is making PR citizens since they can’t vote so WTFC amrite? As we saw in this election, spite’s a hell of a drug and people who feel they aren’t being listened to or neglected will pick the other guy to screw you over.

    In order to get the kind of results that would make it worthwhile, however, some marketing and word of mouth needs to be done – Go West, Young Man in the modern era. Florida as a large Hispanic presence and is a known quantity. It’s close to home if you want to go back. Libs have a GREAT opportunity here to use networking to get the word out: Florida’s the place. Even if we can’t flip it blue, we can make it purple enough to make cons nervous. In fact, they already are – there’s rumblings over at Breitbart about this very thing. The GOP used and abused the Cuban refugee population for years to keep the state red. They’re afraid the tables will turn, only this time with legal US citizens with recent experience of being treated like trash by their President.

    A lot of these people have literally nothing left. If someone gave them a lift to the mainland, why not take it and try again up here? What have you got to lose?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Gustopher says:

    One thing that makes this definitively not Trump’s Katrina moment was that George W. Bush wasn’t willing to just shrug and walk away.

    (There were many, many problems with the federal response to Katrina, but getting bored after three weeks wasn’t one of them)

    (Presidenting is hard)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @James Pearce: Curmudgeon is right. Picky, picky, picky. If a million actually moved off PR they might not all go to Florida. But @KM: stated,

    So in the interest of humanitarian relief, let’s get a bunch of them off the island and into Florida.

    as a predicate to his hypothetical. And yes, they might not all vote Dem. Given Trump’s actions and statements, I’d say no more than 95%. Given that Trumpsky carried FL by about 100,000, do you think 90+ percent of a million might be enough?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I realize that this might be a small reach but …

    Back in July 2015 the Trump International Golf Course in Puerto Rico went bankrupt, and given Trump’s well known vindictiveness, his desire to blame others, and even up scores, I would not be surprised if Trump’s recently demonstrated ambivalence toward Puerto Rico is related to that bankruptcy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @James Pearce: Top 5 destinations from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (July 2016 – June 2017)
    1. Orlando
    2. New York – JFK
    3. Fort Lauderdale
    4. Miami
    5. Atlanta

    source: https://www.transtats.bts.gov/airports.asp?pn=1&Airport=SJU&carrier=FACTS

    The largest populations of Puerto Ricans are situated in the following metropolitan areas (Source: Census 2010):

    New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA MSA – 1,177,430
    Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL MSA – 269,781
    Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD MSA – 238,866
    Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL MSA – 207,727
    Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA – 188,502
    Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL MSA – 143,886
    Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH MSA – 115,087
    Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT MSA – 102,911
    Springfield, MA MSA – 87,798
    New Haven-Milford, CT MSA – 77,578

    It’s almost as if there are existing familial and business relationships between Puerto Ricans living on the island and those in Florida, or something.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Slugger says:

    Trump wants no problems, no issues, no disagreements, and no work. A full day of being told that he is great, followed by a round of golf, a steak with ketchup dinner, and oogling some hotty constitutes a good day for him. The work of running a country of 330 million people is just not that much fun. I should confess that I am in agreement with him on many of these things; no ketchup on my steak and a couple of glasses of a cabernet sauvignon for me. Why don’t these Puerto Ricans who are only amusing because of the funny way they say the name of their island take care of themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. Barry says:

    @KM: ” As for voting Trump, Hispanics would be a natural base for conservatives if they’d just stop with the whole “we don’t like you” bit. ”

    At this point, the ‘would’ is stretched a lot. The GOP’s virulent racism is clear to any honest person who bothers to look. Hispanics are clearly classified with other non-whites.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    Some super-genius ideas here. I really like the one where ever-more Democrats flood into one state that is extremely vulnerable to negative effects of climate change and at the same time further dilute their representation in the electoral college. I mean, it’s not like high-population states are automatically under-represented and low-population states are over-represented ner nuthin.

    That 50+1 until next Tuesday thinking is the best.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  14. KM says:

    @Ben Wolf:
    PR citizens aren’t represented in the electoral college! Plus it’s not dilution, it’s concentration. Specifically, concentration in a known swing state that can and has gone blue recently. A much better prospect then, oh say ND, who’s got a lower population but less infrastructure to absorb a large influx of people with little to nothing to their name. ND has 3 electoral votes, FL has 29. FL alone is worth PA and WI, both of which cannot be relied on to stay red for the GOP.

    They are also going to go where they are most comfortable aka with family or familiar settings. I’m assuming the snowy plains of the Midwest aren’t going to be real appealing to people from a tropical island, but that’s just me. They’re also going to want to go where they feel welcome and the Rust Belt and Appalachia’s been kinda vocal lately about how they feel. Can you imagine moving to redneck territory where they scream “Go back to where you came from?!” and treated you like a hated refugee in your own damn country?

    If the only state we can get it’s Florida, we’ll take it. Now, the whole climate change thing is a different kettle of fish. Once we state losing parts of the state(s) to it, we’ll see how the electoral college reacts. Would Floridians flee and resettle in Georgia or New York or California or Texas? Who knows?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Ben Wolf: No one is suggesting that Puerto Ricans suddenly decide to pick up en masse and move to South Carolina. Reality dictates that people who *can* move after a major natural disaster often *do* move and do not return home. And they tend to move towards places that already have people like them.

    Currently there are six states with Puerto Rican communities greater than 200,000 people. They are, in order of size:

    New York
    Florida
    New Jersey
    Pennsylvania
    Massachusetts
    Connecticut

    Which one of those is not like the others? There is only one purple state among the bunch.

    I’m a loss to understand how a person moving from the island of Puerto Rico, where their vote for President doesn’t count for anything at all, to a purple state such a Florida rather than one of the five blue states with large built-in Puerto Rican communities, serves to dilute the influence of Puerto Ricans in the electoral college.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. george says:

    @gVOR08:

    A cynical person might note one other possible reason Trump has been unsympathetic.

    Only one? I can think of at least five, none of which suggest anything good about Trump at all. And that’s with the cynicism engine still idling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. John430 says:

    We have friends who are professionals in Ponce and Boqueron. They have complained for years that the Puerto Rican working class sit on their hands and make the old Mexican manana attitude look like bustling activity. Hardly any of the P.R. citizens bothered with the cleanup and just sat waiting for others to restore everything. Look closely at the news feeds. Streets and hiways still blocked and nobody bothers to clean up their own areas. Trump has a point.

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @John430:

    Hardly any of the P.R. citizens bothered with the cleanup and just sat waiting for others to restore everything. Look closely at the news feeds. Streets and hiways still blocked and nobody bothers to clean up their own areas. Trump has a point.

    “Blame the victim” could be the next GOP campaign slogan. They’ve advanced it to a fine art.

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