Trump spends frenzied day in Puerto Rico


President Trump on Tuesday hailed Puerto Rico’s relatively small death toll compared to a “real catastrophe like Katrina” during a visit to the devastated island meant to promote federal response efforts to Hurricane Maria.

“Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” Trump said, noting the difference in the official death tolls. “You can be very proud.”

On a frenzied day in the U.S. island territory, Trump toured neighborhoods, joked that disaster aid for Puerto Rico was breaking the federal budget and tossed rolls of paper towels to people at a crowded church.

It was all a reminder of the different approach Trump takes, and the very different atmosphere that surrounds him, as he juggles crises within and outside his control.

{mosads}Trump tried out the familiar consoler-in-chief role during his visit, but at times appeared more concerned with portraying the response effort as a victory for his administration while rebutting criticism that it has been too slow.

Trump repeatedly brought up how his administration’s response to Puerto Rico would be graded as he lavished praise on federal and local officials.

“Every death is a horror,” the president told officials. “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 overpowering — nobody has ever seen anything like this.”

As he passed out flashlights to hurricane victims, Trump said “you don’t need ‘em anymore”  — even as much of the island remains without power.

Trump singled out Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) for “giving us the highest grades” and noted he “did not play politics.”

But he pointedly left out the mayor of San Juan, who had become one of the loudest voices criticizing his administration’s disaster-relief efforts.

The president will face a new test on Wednesday when he visits Las Vegas, where a gunman killed at least 59 people on Sunday in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The president’s remarks about the cost of the natural disaster and his Hurricane Katrina comparison angered Democrats, who accused him of offering a tone-deaf response to residents who are suffering.

“I wish he would stop talking about money,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who is of Puerto Rican descent, told CNN. “What’s a human life worth? How do you put that on the scorecard? There is no cost that you can put on a human life.”

Gutiérrez also cautioned that the official death toll could climb higher. Large swaths of the island, particularly its more mountainous regions, lack running water and adequate food supplies.

At a military base near San Juan, Trump appeared to be in high-spirits as he joked around with government officials during his first stop on the island. He even took a crack at Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt, which he suggested has complicated the response.

“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, we saved a lot of lives,” Trump said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired back at Trump from the Senate floor, demanding he “stop blaming Puerto Rico for the storm that devastated their shores.”

The top Democrat accused Trump of holding the territory to a different standard than Texas and Florida, which suffered tremendous damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“Yes, we’re spending money in Puerto Rico,” Schumer said. “We’re spending money to turn the power back on. To give people drinking water. And to keep life support machines working in the hospitals. And that’s what we do in America. … And Puerto Rico should be just the same.”

While he did not mention her in his remarks, Trump avoided a public confrontation with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz at a briefing with local and federal officials.

The two leaders shook hands before the event. “How’re you?” Trump asked. Cruz told Trump that “it’s not about politics.” Trump appeared to mouth “thank you.”

Cruz last week accused the administration of “killing us with the inefficiency,” prompting Trump to respond on Twitter the real problem is “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

Meanwhile, Trump received cover from Rosselló and Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón (R).

“The amount of devastation is unheard of. But during all this time, we got the federal government by our side doing their job for the people here,” said González. “Thank you, Mr. President, for all you’ve done for the island.”

Trump’s visit to the island with filled with colorful moments.

At the Cavalry Chapel in Guaynabo, Trump was cheered for passing out paper towels by pretending to shoot them into a basketball hoop. He and Melania Trump walked the streets of Guaynabo meeting with victims of the hurricane.

One family told the first lady they had been trapped in their homes.

“You know who helped them? God helped them,” Trump said. “That’s right.”

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