President Donald Trump launched an attack on San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Saturday for criticizing the White House’s hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, accusing her of “poor leadership” and suggesting that the island’s residents are not doing enough to help themselves.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the President tweeted from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he is spending the weekend. “… Such 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.”
In the series of early morning tweets, Trump again lauded the federal government’s response on the island, which is still grappling with the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria. The President said that the 10,000 federal workers there are doing a “fantastic job.”
“The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job,” he wrote. “Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.”
Trump’s early praise of relief efforts does not appear to match the reality on the ground. Puerto Rico, which is home to 3.4 million people, is facing a humanitarian crisis, and many of its people remain without power and water. Sixteen people have died, according to government officials, but that number could well rise with the full range of devastation not yet known.
Yulín Cruz tweeted shortly after Trump, saying that the only goal was “saving lives.”
“This is the time to show our ‘true colors,'” she wrote. “We cannot be distracted by anything else.”
Trump’s comments come ahead of a planned visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday. The President is scheduled to speak with FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and other Puerto Rican officials later Saturday.
Rossello said Saturday morning that his previous conversations with Trump didn’t square up with the President’s tweets and that Trump had “reiterated his commitment with this effort.”
“I do reiterate that the only way for this to work is for us to have collaboration,” Rossello said. “And let me stress this, I am committed to collaborating with everybody. This is a point where we can’t look at small differences. We can’t establish differences based on politics.”
While Trump and other administration officials have repeatedly lauded the federal government’s response to Maria, some have said that the administration has moved more slowly than it did in responding to the recent storms that battered Texas and Florida.
Other critics have drawn comparisons to President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, particularly given the race and class of most victims in both disasters. Katrina, of course, became a political disaster for the Bush presidency.
On Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke stirred controversy after she told reporters she was “very satisfied” with the federal response since Maria made landfall, calling it a “good news story.”
“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” Duke said.
That prompted a sharp retort from San Juan’s mayor in a CNN interview.
“This is, damn it, this is not a good news story,” Mayor Yulín Cruz said. “This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life-or-death’ story. This is, ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.”
In his Saturday morning tweets, Trump also lashed out at the media for what he said was biased coverage, saying that the “Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico.”
“Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to ‘get Trump,'” he tweeted. “Not fair to FR or effort!”
Trump’s comments were criticized by a number of Democratic lawmakers, who took issue with the President’s rhetoric in the middle of a domestic disaster.
“First thing Trump should do on Tues when he visits #PuertoRico for the first time since #HurricaneMaria devastated the island is apologize,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts tweeted.
Don Beyer, a Democratic representative from Virginia, noted in a series of tweets that the President had ignored the people of Puerto Rico for days, instead “picking a fight with athletes while a humanitarian crisis grew in Puerto Rico.”
“You focused on aid efforts in TX & FL but ignored Puerto Rico. Now you attack San Juan’s mayor for saying ‘people are dying.’ THEY ARE DYING,” he wrote.