Trump Still Thinks He Did A ‘Fantastic Job’ In Puerto Rico

Despite the evidence, the President thinks he did a great job handling a disaster in which nearly 3,000 American citizens died.

Notwithstanding the report that nearly three thousand American citizens died as a result of Hurricane Maria and the flawed response to the aftermath of that disaster, President Trump remains convinced that his Administration did a “fantastic job”:

President Trump on Wednesday defended his administration’s response to a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico last year, despite a study released this week that said there was a spike in deaths on the island in the six months that followed.

“I think we did a fantastic job,” Trump said, responding to a question from a reporter at the White House. He called the emergency on the island “by far the most difficult” of the areas of the United States and its territories ravaged by a series of hurricanes.

“It’s hard to get things on the island,” Trump said, comparing the situation to response efforts in Texas and Florida, which also suffered significant damage.

The president’s remarks came a day after a sweeping new report from George Washington University found that there were an estimated 2,975 excess deaths on the island after Maria made landfall in September 2017. The Puerto Rico government embraced the findings as the official death toll, ranking Maria among the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. For much of the past year, the government had formally acknowledged just 64 deaths from the hurricane, which ravaged much of the territory and destroyed critical infrastructure. The spike in mortality came as the territory dealt with widespread and lengthy power outages, a lack of access to adequate health care, water insecurity and diseases related to the crisis.

Trump and his administration had been heavily criticized for not responding to the crisis in Puerto Rico as thoroughly as they did to the disasters caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the continental United States. As he had in the wake of the storms last year, Trump  emphasized the magnitude of the challenge Wednesday, calling the back-to-back hurricanes “the likes of which we have never seen before,” and  sought to shift blame onto Puerto Rico, citing the U.S. territory’s debt and infrastructure problems as contributing to the crisis.

“When the hurricane came, people said, ‘What are we going to do about the electrical?’ That wasn’t really the hurricane. It was before the hurricane,” Trump said. “We’ve put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico.” He said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who unlike other politicians in the territory has been supportive of Trump, was “happy with the job we’ve done.”

At a news conference  Tuesday, Rosselló accepted the GWU report, which found that his administration was largely unprepared for the magnitude of the storm, and acknowledged he had “made mistakes.”

It is “time to correct what we didn’t do well,” he said.

Trump praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “very brave” in its response to the storms last year. Of Puerto Rico, he said: “I only hope they don’t get hit again. . . . Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before they got hit. We’re straightening out those difficulties even now.”

The President’s tone deaf, and largely wrong, response to the latest news about the impact of Maria on Puerto Rico is hardly a new development, of course. Even as the island was just beginning to recover from the disaster, Trump was spending more time attacking officials at the local and island-wide level than he was working to actually do anything that would help these American citizens dealing with what was obviously the worst natural disaster to hit an American territory since at least Hurricane Katrina. Within a month after the storm had hit, the President was already talking about withdrawing Federal relief sources even though it was clear that it would be months, if not years before parts of the island would be anywhere close to being back to where it was before the storm hit. As a result, it’s clear that the warnings of these officials, such as the Mayor of San Juan who traded barbs with the President over the course of several weeks last September and October, went unheeded and that little to nothing was being done to follow up on those local warnings or on the reporting being done by reporters on the ground that clearly indicated that there were serious gaps in the disaster relief program that was supposedly being overseen by Trump’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. Rather than heed those warnings, though, the President and his staff clearly ignored them and one cannot help but believe that, at least in part, this contributed to the deaths that resulted from the storm and its aftermath.

Furthermore, while the President is correct that Puerto Rico was in dire financial straits well before Maria came long, his comments yesterday and in the past misstate the truth about what happened and how it contributed to the crisis that resulted after the storm struck. For example, it is true that Puerto Rico’s largest electric utility was in deep financial trouble prior to the storm, but it is not true that there was any significant portion of the island that was not receiving power prior to the storm. Indeed, part of the responsibility of FEMA and other Federal agencies after a storm like this is to help get things like electric power and water back online. They utterly failed to do this and, as a result, millions of people went without power for months, and there reportedly still rural parts of the island for whom power has not been fully restored.

Additionally, Trump’s comments about the financial problems that the island was dealing with prior to Maria, which did hinder the ability to promptly respond to the storm to some degree, ignore some of the main reasons why that was the case. 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. For the most part, though, those changes came too late to have a measurable impact prior to the time that Maria struck.

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. 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, the situation remains desperate, and there are parts of the island 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. Experts have estimated it will take years, and billions of dollars, for the island to get anywhere close to where it was before the storm hit. And this President clearly does not care.

To be sure, what happened in the wake of Maria is not entirely the fault of the Federal Government. There were failures at the island-wide and local level as well, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that the primary responsibility in a situation such as this is a Federal one and that, just as was the case in the wake of Katrina, there was a combination of failure, incompetence, and outright neglect on the part of Washington that should be completely unacceptable. At the very least, it is clear that the President’s belief that he did a “fantastic job” is a fantasy.

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?

 

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Natural Disasters, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    It’s not just Trump. Republicans on an institutional level are at best indifferent to the deaths of Puerto Ricans. It’s a heavily Democratic leaning population and has no Senate or House Rep to be included in negotiations. And a large portion of self identified Republicans, including elected officials, simply can’t register the fact that a group of brown people who primarily speak Spanish are actually Americans. And since the actual agenda of the Republican Party is controlled by billionaire Libertarian hobbyists who feel that having a large government response to disaster only encourages people to be shiftless and lazy, Republican legislatures can safely turn their back on these people and get back to what they really care about: protecting Confederate statues, making sure that bakers don’t have to sell cakes to gay people and cutting corrupt deals with big business.

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  2. Timothy Watson says:

    “It’s hard to get things on the island,” Trump said, comparing the situation to response efforts in Texas and Florida, which also suffered significant damage.

    It’s almost as if we didn’t have three military commands (Military Sealift Command, Air Mobility Command, and Surface Deployment and Distribution Command) whose sole purposes are getting shit places.

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    …it is not true that there was any significant portion of the island that was not receiving power prior to the storm.

    The guy can’t open his mouth without lying.
    Now Dennison is claiming Lester Holt “fudged” the tape where he admits to firing Comey over Russia.
    Most of these 3,000 people died waiting for Dennison to do “a fantastic job”.
    The rest of us are still waiting.

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  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    “Heck of a job, Trumpy!”

  5. Kathy says:

    There’s a PR tactic which consists in referring to policy or usual practices, instead of addressing specific questions regarding anything from mistakes to deliberate wrongdoing. It’s most commonly used against journalistic exposés, but you see it a lot in some press conferences as well.

    It’s infuriating, because when confronted with evidence, the tactic is entirely non-responsive, but claims the stated policy as “proof” that the accusation cannot be true.

    Trump and his minions have abused this tactic way too much. The twist is only the assumption that El Cheeto doesn’t make mistakes, therefore everything he does or says is right, no matter what evidence to the contrary there may be, and no matter if the evidence is Trump’s own words. and, naturally, if something bad happened, it must be someone else’s fault.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl 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

    More likely it’s because Fox News didn’t cover the PR Hurricane extensively until it became obvious there was a problem there. The POTUS, in spite of being in control of the US Government, gets all his information from cable TV. Like Chance the Gardener, he likes to watch.

    Whatever the reason, though, the attitude he’s displaying is hardly Presidential, but then that’s typical for him, isn’t it?

    His attitude is the least of our worries. He has proven, repeatedly, that he isn’t nearly capable of performing the job that 19% of the country elected him to. It was known for days in advance that the storm was going to strike PR…and still he killed nearly 3,000 US citizens thru his incompetence. He won’t have any advance warning of the next 9/11-type event. We will all be fvcked, then.

  7. James Pearce says:

    Whatever the reason, though, the attitude he’s displaying is hardly Presidential, but then that’s typical for him, isn’t it?

    Yeah….yeah, it is.

    Found this on Twitter:

    Trump unblocked me after four years because of a court order and now I can see each of the 13 tweets he does every day about how the cable channels he watches are so unfair and no one watches them. It sucks ass.

    Made me laugh.

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    OT…
    President Trillion Dollar Tax Cut to Benefit Himself just froze the wages of federal employees.
    Now he can go golfing for the long weekend.

  9. Kathy says:

    An then there’s kicking out US citizens for having brown skin.

    Seriously, you need to get rid of the Orange Clown by any means.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly 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.

    That’s an awfully long winded way of saying he’s racist, Doug.

  11. Gustopher 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.

    Your cynical nature is awfully idealistic.

    I’m not saying that there was a deliberate plan to let brown people die, because “fvck brown people,” but that’s the first place the cynical man would go.

  12. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Timothy Watson: And yet he wants us to trust him to build SPACE! FORCE!

  13. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    The list of things Trump claims is true that aren’t actually so…is almost everything he tweets.

  14. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile, 155 heat related deaths in Phoenix over the last year.

    Take this across the country, and look at the heat waves, and we could conceivably be looking at 2,000 to 3,000 nation wide, and this is going to be the new normal with temperatures continuing to rise. A quiet, slow moving disaster.

    Warmer oceans generally mean more energetic storms, so while we cannot identify a direct link between global warming and last year’s particularly destructive hurricane season, we can expect it to be more common going forward.

    All of which is to say that we need to be better prepared to handle multiple major hurricanes per year, and ourfine President’s belief that we are doing well with disaster response is not just laughably bad, but dangerous as well.

    And the US is better positioned for dealing with climate change than most of the world.

  15. george says:

    @Gustopher:

    And ironically enough, the air conditioning needed to stop such heat related deaths will increase greenhouse gas emission, requiring more air conditioning … its quite possible that part of the solution to heat related deaths will be to return southern populations to the levels they were before the advent of air conditioning.

    In terms of the bigger topic, Trump is one of those folks who thinks everything he does is correct by definition. Or to paraphrase the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the Guide is always correct, the galaxy is sometimes in error. The only solution to Trump is to remove him from office, or at the minimum, for Democrats to take control of the Senate and block his every move.

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  16. Slugger says:

    I think everything Trump does is fantastic, as fantastic as the response to Puerto Rico, but somethings are even more fantastic. From now I will refer to everything he does as fantastic.

  17. CSK says:

    Well, of course he thinks he did a fantastic job. On that interview with Fox, he awarded himself and his presidency an A+, didn’t he?

  18. KM says:

    @george:

    its quite possible that part of the solution to heat related deaths will be to return southern populations to the levels they were before the advent of air conditioning.

    Consider that would help with the persistent water shortages, that would be a fantastic solution that will never be taken seriously. Every year when California burns and Arizona swelters to death, when Florida drowns in hurricanes and Oklahoma gets torn apart by tornadoes, I wonder why it never seems to occur to anyone who lives there WHY is was uninhabited for so long. These places only really became habitable on a large scale within the last century – some of them since only the 50’s or so. Yes, tech made it possible to survive there when we couldn’t before but it doesn’t change the fact that it was not really a good idea in the first place.

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  19. al Ameda says:

    To be fair, Trump did go down to Puerto Rico and, in his best Marie Antoinette style, threw to the ‘crowd’ rolls of the best paper towels to help them through this disaster.