Dems bash Trump for NFL focus as Puerto Rico reels

Dems bash Trump for NFL focus as Puerto Rico reels
© Getty Images

Democrats are lashing out at President Trump for focusing on sports protests at a time when Puerto Ricans, overwhelmed by a pair of hurricanes, are desperate for federal help. 

Trump in recent days has trained his Twitter feed almost exclusively on protests by NFL players, suggesting team owners should fire anyone who refuses to stand for the national anthem.

ADVERTISEMENT
Meanwhile, cleanup and recovery efforts have been underway in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where officials are fighting to prevent a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria.

“Rather than worrying about football players protesting the national anthem, the president needs to focus on ensuring maximum federal resources are being used to assist American citizens in Puerto Rico who are reeling from Maria,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. 

“Times of crisis demand effective leadership and I can only hope the president lives up to that responsibility.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) piled on, decrying Trump’s focus on protesting athletes while “not bother[ing] to lend a minuscule amount of support” for the storm victims. 

“The disaster relief funding that Congress has appropriated is not nearly enough to provide relief following the devastation,” he said. 

The Trump administration has repeatedly stressed that it will get federal aid to Puerto Rico.

Last week, as Maria barreled down on the island, Trump tweeted in solidarity with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. And the administration on Monday sent two top officials — Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long and homeland security adviser Tom Bossert — to the island to assess the damage.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the trip is part of an “unprecedented movement” planned by the administration to respond to the hurricane, which left much of the island without electricity and water. 

Sanders batted away critics who say Trump hasn’t paid adequate attention to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

“He’s not emphasizing sports,” she said. 

“I certainly don’t think that talking about the American flag is a distraction for the president of the United States,” Sanders added.

“It really doesn’t take that long to type out 140 characters, and this president is capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day.”

Since Friday, the president has tweeted 14 times about NFL players’ protests during the national anthem.

In doing so, he’s supercharged a national debate on free speech, race and the rights of sports figures to protest racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” Trump tweeted in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” 

Federico de Jesús, a former deputy director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration — the island’s representation in Washington — told The Hill in an email that Trump’s “focus on the NFL instead of the emergency in Puerto Rico is appalling.”

“Puerto Rico is not getting all it needs,” said de Jesús. “Countless seniors and others don’t have their medicine. Most people need generators for power. Hospitals especially. Telecommunications are down and entire towns are incommunicado.”

“[Hurricane] Katrina is nothing compared to this,” he added.

Some Republicans have taken Trump’s side, saying he’s right to call out the protesting players.

“Any player who has taken a knee to protest this great country during its anthem should already be gone,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Army veteran who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, said Monday. 

Yet other Republicans are voicing concerns that Trump’s focus on the NFL protests is distracting from Maria relief efforts. 

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, urged Washington policymakers to “put aside controversies [and] prioritize rescue.”

Rep. Dave Trott (R-Mich.), who recently announced his plans to retire next year, echoed that plea in a House floor speech on Monday afternoon.

“We do not need to concern ourselves with this issue, and the reason is because the First Amendment works,” Trott said, without mentioning Trump by name.

“What we should concern ourselves with is how soon 3 million people in Puerto Rico are getting water and electricity, why millions of Americans are uncertain about health care and what we’re going to do about North Korea. 

“That’s what we need to focus on in this House.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) on Monday promised a quick response to help Maria victims, vowing that Congress will “make sure they have what they need.”

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the administration to take more aggressive steps to deliver aid. Emergency responders are stretched thin, dealing with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, which bashed Texas last month, and Hurricane Irma, which hit the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and Florida shortly afterwards. 

Rosselló asked the Department of Defense Sunday for more assistance on law enforcement and transportation. And House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on the Pentagon Monday to deploy more help to the territories, saying they “deserve to know that their government will be there for them, without question or hesitation.”

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), the most senior Puerto Rican member of Congress, said the debt-strapped island is dealing with “an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

“This is a moment where presidential leadership is essential, but we have been met with near silence,” Serrano said.

“The 3.4 million American citizens residing on the island — many of whom live in poverty — deserve more attention than the NFL. The creation of a Presidential Task Force like the one created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which I am urging the administration to create, would be a fitting and sensible first step.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.