Trump leaves San Juan’s mayor out of praise for Puerto Rico leaders
The two leaders did shake hands upon Trump’s arrival in Puerto Rico.
Speaking at the White House earlier Tuesday, Trump signaled he wanted to move past the spat.
“I think she’s come back a long way. I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” he told reporters.
Trump’s Puerto Rico visit is a test of his ability to play the role of consoler in chief.
The president has been deeply critical of people who have questioned the federal response efforts, calling them “politically motivated ingrates” who aren’t doing enough to help their communities.
He also blasted the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”
On Tuesday, however, Trump came face-to-face with survivors of the Category 4 storm. A majority of the U.S. island territory’s 3.4 million citizens remain without power, adequate food and clean drinking water. Many citizens on the island have complained authorities have been slow to deliver relief supplies.
The president showed he will stick with his freewheeling style, even in a place facing a humanitarian crisis.
After making remarks, he walked around a neighborhood damaged by the storm and shook hands with local residents.
“We’re going to work it out, have a good time,” the president told one resident, having posed for a photo.
Beforehand, he made reference to the island’s $74 billion in debt, saying it might complicate federal budget requests for disaster relief.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine,” Trump said. “We saved a lot of lives.”
The president also compared the fatality count from Hurricane Maria to that of Hurricane Katrina, which killed thousands in 2005.
“If you looked — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing, nobody has seen anything like this,” Trump said.
“What is your death count as of this morning, 17?” Trump asked.
“Sixteen people certified,” Rosselló responded.
“Sixteen people certified versus in the thousands,” Trump said. “You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.”
The official death toll, however, has not been updated in nearly a week. Media reports estimate the number is higher than 16.