President Trump on Friday offered up another explanation for the difficulties facing his federal disaster relief effort in Puerto Rico, reminding the island’s desperate residents that the U.S. territory is “surrounded by water.”
“This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” the president said during a speech about his tax plan in Washington.
Trump, who is facing bipartisan criticism for his inadequate response to the disaster, seemed to be more concerned with Puerto Rico’s debt and costs to rebuild the island’s devastated infrastructure than the immediate humanitarian crisis on the ground.
“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort … will be funded,” he said. “And what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.
Minutes before his speech, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the president should put the military in charge of delivering aid in the country.
President Trump on Puerto Rico relief efforts: "This is an island. Surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water." pic.twitter.com/kRSKVMeEQx
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 29, 2017
CNN reported on Thursday that nearly 10,000 containers full of medicine, food, water and other life-saving supplies for hurricane victims has been sitting idly at the Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico due to a lack of truck drivers, a fuel shortage, and infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Maria last week.
Democratic lawmakers have blasted President Trump’s response to the growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory last week, calling it inadequate.
The White House Thursday blamed the media coverage of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath for giving the illusion that the response is slow.
“I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we aren’t moving fast enough,” White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters.
“The people of Puerto Rico have every bit of support from President Trump that he gave to the citizens of every other state in this country.”
Trump also blamed the press, tweeting on Thursday: “Wish press would treat fairly!”
…really hard to help but many have lost their homes. Military is now on site and I will be there Tuesday. Wish press would treat fairly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 28, 2017
The retired lieutenant general who was credited with turning around the government’s disastrous initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, joined a growing chorus of criticism from Congress about the Trump administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Maria.
“It’s kind of like Katrina: We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry,” Russel Honore told Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday. “This is a hit on White House decision making.”
Honore said the White House should have sent more people and equipment to the island in advance of the monster hurricane, and the Department of Defense should be given far greater authority over the response.
“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump said Tuesday of his administration’s Hurricane Maria relief efforts. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”