President Trump kicked off his visit to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico Tuesday by continuing to applaud his own federal recovery efforts while simultaneously attempting to downplay the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which has left 95 percent of the island without power and more than 50 percent without access to clean water two weeks after making landfall.
While “every death is a horror,” Trump told Puerto Rican officials, they “can be very proud” that only 16 deaths have been counted so far as a result of Maria. He compared the number with “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which caused more than 1,800 fatalities when it slammed into Louisiana and Alabama.
It’s unclear what Maria’s actual death toll will end up being, as the hurricane wrecked lines of communication throughout much of the island. And many people there are still struggling to get potable water and other basic supplies.
Trump’s comparison of the two deadly storms was among a series of freewheeling comments he made at a briefing with local officials, U.S. military personnel and other federal relief workers. Trump spent much of the briefing issuing effusive congratulations to response teams and members of his Cabinet, while adding in a few not-so-subtle digs at the U.S. territory.
“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” Trump said. “We’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, but it’s fine.”
A number of Puerto Rican officials were in attendance, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, whose criticisms of the federal aid to Puerto Rico made her the subject of several angry Trump tweets over the weekend. But only those with positive things to say about the federal response to Maria were given a chance to speak.
For example, Trump singled out Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the U.S. House of Representatives for saying “such nice things” about the federal response, and called on her — by her first name — to repeat some of those nice things in front of the cameras Tuesday.
. @realDonaldTrump leadership making the difference to help Puerto Rico recover, our people thank you! And I thank you for your call today
— Jenniffer González (@Jenniffer2012) September 27, 2017
Before proceeding to tour some of the damage to San Juan, Trump ended the briefing by thanking the Puerto Rican officials for their support and, essentially, telling them: You’re welcome.
“I know you appreciate our support because our country’s really gone all out to help,” he said. “It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive, it’s everything. But I consider it a great honor, maybe because I know so many people from Puerto Rico. I’m from New York.”
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