But asked to rate the federal government’s recovery effort on a scale of one to 10, Trump told reporters: “I give ourselves a 10.” Speaking after an Oval Office meeting with Ricardo Rosselló, the island’s governor, the president said that the devastation caused by the storm was worse than Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and “in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen”.
“It hit right through the middle of the island,” Trump said, chopping the air with his arm as if to indicate the storm’s path. “It hit right through the middle of Puerto Rico. There’s never been anything like that.”
Trump has faced criticism for his response to the crisis, including from the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who accused the administration of not doing enough. He visited the island earlier this month and told local officials that they should be “proud” of how few people had died from the storm compared with the death toll during Hurricane Katrina, which he described as a “real catastrophe”.
During that visit, he also tossed paper towels into a crowd gathered to see him near San Juan.
Trump’s rosy assessment does not reflect public opinion polls, which show a majority of Americans believe the administration is not doing enough to restore electricity and deliver food and water to the island.
Rosselló declined to rate the effort, though he was complimentary of the administration’s response. Trump pressed the governor to expand.
“Did the United States, did our government, when we came in, did we do a great job? Military, first responders, Fema, did we do a great job?” Trump asked.
“You responded immediately, sir,” Rosselló said.
He continued: “We recognize that there are some logistical limitations that we have in Puerto Rico. We didn’t have the ports open for a couple of days. We didn’t have the airports open at full capacity until about a day or two ago. So, that was always a great limiting step.
“But if you consider that we’ve gotten, even with those obstacles, we’ve gotten about 15,000 DoD [Department of Defense] personnel in Puerto Rico, about 2,000 Fema [Federal Emergency Management Agency] personnel, HHS [health and human services] and others. The response is there. Do we need to do a lot more? Of course we do and I think everyone over here recognizes there’s a lot of work to be done in Puerto Rico. But with your leadership, sir, and with everybody over here, we’re committed to achieving that in the long run.”
Last week, Trump came under fire when he tweeted that Washington could not continue to aid Puerto Rico “forever”. During the meeting, he echoed that sentiment.
“At some point, Fema has to leave, first responders have to leave and the people have to take over,” he said.
Trump parried a question about Puerto Rican statehood. “You’ll get me into trouble with that question,” he said, suggesting that he would address the issue “at a later time”.
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