Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Trump attacks mayor of San Juan as he touts readiness for Hurricane Florence

September 12, 2018 at 10:06 AM

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President Trump on Sept. 11 praised his administration's response to the damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria last year, where the death toll was nearly 3,000. (The Washington Post)

President Trump leveled a fresh attack Wednesday against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as he continued to defend his administration’s response to the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico last year and asserted readiness for the one now barreling toward the Carolinas.

In a morning tweet, Trump called Cruz “totally incompetent.” She was the local official most vocal about the need for a stronger federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where researchers have estimated that nearly 3,000 additional deaths occurred after the storm.

In the tweet, Trump also touted his administration’s response to other hurricanes last year and doubled down on his insistence Tuesday that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was “an incredible, unsung success.”

“We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan),” Trump wrote, adding: “We are ready for the big one that is coming!”

That was a reference to Hurricane Florence, which is drawing ever closer to the coast of the Carolinas, where it threatens to become the most intense storm to strike the region in at least 25 years.

In subsequent tweets Wednesday morning, Trump asserted that officials, including those at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are ready to respond, and he warned coastal residents to take precautions.

“We’ll handle it. We’re ready,” Trump said in a video message distributed over Twitter.

He also urged residents: “Get out of its way. Don’t play games with it.”

“The storm will come. It will go. We want everybody to be safe,” he said. “We love you all. We want you safe. Get out of the storm’s way.”

He later warmed: “Hurricane Florence may now be dipping a bit south and hitting a portion of the Great State of Georgia. Be ready, be prepared!”

Cruz was among those who criticized Trump’s assertion Tuesday that the government’s response to Maria was a success, saying his comments added “insult to injury.”

“Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people [is] a success God help us all,” Cruz tweeted.

In another tweet, she wrote: “2,431 applications for funeral assistance were submitted to @fema after María. Only 75 approved. Oh yes Mr Pres another sign of success?”

In a report published last month, researchers at George Washington University estimated that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria had caused 2,975 excess deaths in the six months after the storm. The government of Puerto Rico has embraced the estimate, which the researchers arrived at by comparing the number of deaths after the hurricane to typical death rates and adjusting for a range of variables.

FEMA has acknowledged that it was ill-prepared for the storm.

Trump’s remarks Tuesday also brought a rebuke from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who previously had sought to avoid confrontations with Trump.

“The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and unAmerican,” Rosselló said in a statement. “It is certainly not a successful relationship.”

He called Maria “the worst natural disaster in our modern history” and said many people are still struggling.

“Now is not the time to pass judgment; it is time to channel every effort to improve the lives of over 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.


John Wagner is a national reporter who leads The Post's new breaking political news team. He previously covered the Trump White House. During the 2016 presidential election, he focused on the Democratic campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. He also chronicled Maryland government for more than a decade.

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