President Trump heads to San Juan on Tuesday to meet with Puerto Rican authorities, first responders, and some of the U.S. Caribbean territory's residents still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. The storm was the most powerful to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, and two weeks later 95 percent of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without power. People in the countryside have limited access to food and fresh water.
Trump has traded jabs with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who called for a stronger federal response, and the Trump administration noted that there are now more than 10,000 federal officials on the island helping. Harold Maass
President Trump spent the weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, and in between telephone briefings on the situations in Puerto Rico and North Korea and, apparently, a round of golf, Trump was active on Twitter, alternating praise for his government's efforts to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria and attacking San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, as ungrateful and "nasty."
Trump is said to be frustrated by the TV reports from Puerto Rico showing the dire situation on the ground with suggestions that federal mismanagement is hindering relief efforts. On Sunday, Axios released a leaked internal memo from Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, with a plan to "turn the corner on our public communications" regarding Puerto Rico, with proposed "themes" for the weekend and upcoming week. This weekend's "general theme" was "supporting the governor and standing with the people of Puerto Rico to get them food, water, shelter, and emergency medical care," Bossert suggested, adding:
Monday and Tuesday we can pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing as we address temporary housing and sustaining the flow of commodities and basic government services, including temporary power. After that we focus on restoration of basic services throughout next week and next weekend. Then we start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico. Planned hits, tweets, TV bookings, and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts. The storm caused these problems, not our response to it. [Bossert, via Axios]
The situation in Puerto Rico is still "urgent," Bossert wrote, with only 45 percent of people having access to drinking water and one hospital fully operational, but "the president's visit Tuesday will inspire the people and let them know we all care." You can read the entire memo at Axios. Peter Weber
The Trump administration is under fire for its response to Hurricane Maria, which decimated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on its destructive tear through the Caribbean earlier this month. "The Navy and Air Force could have been there Sunday," said Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who managed the military response to Hurricane Katrina, on Thursday. "Could have opened the port, could have opened the air field. Why the hell has it taken this long to do that?" Honoré asked, adding that someone should have gotten President Trump "off the damn golf course."
On the subject of the damn golf course, The Washington Post published a report Friday evening on the impact of Trump's golfing excursion last weekend, shortly after Maria made landfall, noting that the administration went nearly silent on the hurricane for four days while the president golfed at his club in New Jersey and tweeted about the NFL.
No senior administration officials arrived in Puerto Rico to personally assess the damage until Monday, five days after Maria hit, and Trump waited until Thursday to waive the Jones Act, which limits the ships permitted to bring relief aid to the island.
Still, lack of public demonstration of support may not mean negligence, the Post story notes. Unnamed administration and Puerto Rican officials told the Post that while "communications and collaboration" between federal and local officials "has been unprecedented," that has not necessarily "translated into effectiveness on the ground" because of the storm's unexpected level of devastation. Bonnie Kristian
On Friday morning, President Trump had some sobering remarks for Puerto Rico as it attempts to recover and rebuild from its hurricane devastation. "We've never seen a situation like this," he said, vowing support.
What a difference half a day makes. Departing the White House on Friday afternoon en route to his New Jersey golf club, Trump had a more positive spin on Puerto Rico's historic destruction. "The loss of life, it's always tragic," he said to reporters. "But it's been incredible. The results that we've had with the respect to loss of life. People can't believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking."
Trump went on to praise the federal disaster response, including his FEMA administrator Brock Long and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
But in Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz disagreed with the president's assessment. "Where have you been?" Cruz asked in a press conference Friday afternoon of that same federal disaster response. "I have been patient, but we have no time for patience anymore."
"I will do what I never thought I was going to do," Cruz continued. "I am begging. Begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency." Lauren Hansen