Two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump alarmed critics during his long-awaited trip to the U.S. territory on Tuesday, during which he appeared eager to continue his one-sided feud with the mayor of San Juan, openly complained about the cost of the disaster, and took on a self-congratulatory tone regarding the recovery—one that was at odds with the ongoing reports of devastation throughout the island.
While suggesting that the crisis in Puerto Rico was somehow not a “real catastrophe like Katrina,” Trump also said, “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. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”
On social media, journalists and critics expressed shock regarding Trump’s Puerto Rico trip. Some noted some of the day’s more bizarre moments, including Trump jubilantly throwing paper towel rolls into a crowd and telling a hurricane victim to “have a good time.”
While expressing gratitude to those who have been involved in the recovery, Trump mentioned Federal Emergency Management Agency head Brock Long, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who last week called the Hurricane Maria recovery “a good news story,” and Governor Ricardo Rossello, who has been complimentary to the Trump administration since relief efforts began in the days after the storm. He declined to mention San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been largely responsible for drawing much of the world’s attention to the disaster in recent days.
While nearly half of her island’s 3.4 million people were without clean drinking water and almost the entire island was without power last week, Cruz spoke out against Duke’s overly sunny assessment of the situation, saying she was “mad as hell” about the administration’s slow response and demanding that the White House send an official to oversee the distribution of supplies.
Though she said nothing about Trump specifically, the president took Cruz’s comments personally and was apparently unmoved when Cruz reportedly told him, “It’s not about politics” before his press conference Tuesday. Upon singling out Rossello, he thanked the governor for not “playing politics.”
On the subject of lives saved, Trump turned to Rossello and asked, “What is your death count as of this moment?” and marveled that the official number of lives lost in Puerto Rico is 16 as of now.
The count of 16 has not been updated in nearly a week, and officials say the death toll is likely to go up; because of the severity of the disaster, fuel shortages, and roads that haven’t been cleared, as of Saturday there were still towns that FEMA has not yet reached.
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Julia Conley is a Commons Dreams staff writer.