Trump to visit Puerto Rico amid growing war of words

The US President will visit the hurricane-battered region on Tuesday as criticism continues to mount over the relief effort

Birds are seen on a tree without leaves following damages caused by Hurricane Maria near Caguas, Puerto Rico, October 1, 2017  REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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President Donald Trump will visit storm-battered Puerto Rico on Tuesday against an increasingly acrimonious backdrop, after he said those who continued to criticise the relief effort were either "Fake News or politically motivated ingrates".

Trump's latest tweets sought to defend Washington's attentiveness to recovery efforts on a U.S. territory in dire straits almost two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck.

The president spent Saturday ensconced in his New Jersey golf club and on Sunday attended an international golf competition near New York City.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday accused the Trump administration of "killing us with the inefficiency" after the storm. She begged the president to "make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives," and appealed for help "to save us from dying".

Cruz said Sunday that "there's only one goal, and it's saving lives," adding that all she did "was ask for help."

"I know the good heart of the American people and I know that when a mayday sound goes off, they come to the rescue," she said in a television interview.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense's primary military liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Puerto Rico has experienced the worst damage he has ever seen.

“Sometimes we don’t know what’s going to happen until the storm actually hits," Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said in an interview published on Saturday with PBS NewsHour's Monica Villamizar.

"And this is the worst I’ve ever seen."

Buchanan surveyed the damage on the island this weekend.


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Trump, however, appeared unconcerned with the optics of spending his Sunday afternoon watching The Presidents Cup at the Liberty National Golf Club as the crisis continued. He was a guest in the commissioner's hospitality suite perched above the course's 14th hole, and he waved several times at news cameras positioned briefly on the grass below.

When Trump presented the trophy to Team U.S.A., he dedicated it to the people of Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida still recovering from hurricane devastation.

"On behalf of all of the people of Texas and all of the people of — if you look today and see what's happening, how horrible it is. But we have it under really great control," Trump said. "Puerto Rico and the people of Florida who have really suffered over this last short period of time with the hurricanes. I want to just remember them and we're going to dedicate this trophy to all of those people that went through so much, that we love."

As Trump spoke, someone in the crowd accused him of not caring about Puerto Rico, using a vulgarism to make the point.

Trump's weekend tweets have shown him to be contemptuous of any complaints about a laggard U.S. response to the natural disaster that has imperiled the island's future. He has repeatedly blamed the press for what he sees as unfair coverage of the situation on the ground, where power is out and many people are without food, water and fuel.

"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates ... people are now starting to recognize the amazing work" done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military, the president tweeted.

The day before, Trump had lashed out at Cruz, deriding "poor leadership ability" by her and others in Puerto Rico "who are not able to get their workers to help."

He added, without elaboration, "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."

"When the president gets attack, he attacks back," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, who adding that the mayor's comments were "unfair, given what the federal government has done."

But to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump's tweets were "unspeakable".

He characterised the president as "speaking from his fancy golf club, playing golf with his billionaire friends, attacking the mayor of San Juan, who is struggling" to bring electricity, food, water and gas to the island. "I don't know what world Trump is living in."

Trump's administration has tried in recent days to combat the perception that he failed to quickly grasp the magnitude of Maria's destruction and has given the U.S. commonwealth less attention than he had bestowed on Texas, Louisiana and Florida after they were hit by hurricanes.

"The bottom line is at least for the first week and a half the effort has been slow-footed, disorganized, and not adequate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

He urged Trump "to stop calling names, stop downgrading the motives of people who are calling for help, but roll up his sleeves and get to work."